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The experts have weighed in on the Princess Margaret show home

Home sweet five million dollar Oakville home.
Home sweet five million dollar home in Oakville.

It’s time for my annual review of the Princess Margaret Lottery’s multi-million dollar show home in Oakville, Ontario. I’ll begin by saying that it always puzzles me why me and my Baby Boomer BFFs are never consulted on these projects. I’ve written to major commercial and residential housing developers and blogged about what we like and do not like, yet they continue to ignore us. Consequently, they end up designing and building retirement condos that don’t have enough closet and storage space, no balconies suitable for sitting outside and barbecuing our dinner, inefficient kitchens and no linen closets.

Last weekend my honey and I visited the newest Princess Margaret show home valued at five million dollars in Oakville, Ontario. Friends have also checked it out and while many aspects are wonderful, which is to be expected from designer Brian Gluckstein, we agree there are some serious flaws.

  1. Why oh why do they always put the laundry room in the basement. So wrong.
    Why oh why do they always put the laundry room in the basement. Soooo wrong.

    The biggest mistake they make every year is putting the laundry room in the basement. The room is usually large enough to host a barn dance but me and my BFF experts figure that if someone can afford a home like that, the least they can do is put another laundry room on the second floor, perhaps incorporate it into the master ensuite for doing items you don’t want the maid to handle. Who wants to hike miles from the second floor humping a basket full of sheets and towels down to the basement at the opposite end of the house or at the very least to wash your frillies or iron a blouse? Sheesh! It’s not rocket science. That’s what happens when men who don’t do housework design homes.

  2. Sticking the TV/media area in a hallway in the basement with awkward bench seating while devoting an entire room to music jamming on a fake stage seems a bit weird. Maybe watching television and movies is more of a priority for us than playing the drums but that’s just the way we are.

    The casual "blue room" is reportedly Brian Gluckstein's favourite room. Not mine.
    The casual “blue room” is reportedly Brian Gluckstein’s favourite room. Not mine.
  3. We wish Brian (or his designers—we’re inclined to think one of his “people” had a greater hand in the decorating) had stuck with his traditional colour palette of various taupe shades for the big things and bringing in colour in the accessories which require less of an investment. The greenish-blue, seafoam and teal colours are for very subjective tastes which do not include me and my BFFs.
  4. There was an awkward stretch of marble counter in the master bathroom that blocked an attractive architectural niche that they’d filled with a giant plant, like an afterthought—oops, better stick a plant there so this counter won’t look like a mistake. I can think of eight hundred more attractive uses for that niche. For example, a makeup vanity taking advantage of the natural light would be perfect. But that could be my bourgois taste dictating that everything has to have a purpose.

    The great room was pure Gluckstein. Unfortunately the diningroom table seats only eight people.
    The sunken great room was pure Gluckstein. Unfortunately the diningroom table seats only eight people.
  5. The diningroom was half-a-day’s hike from the kitchen and the table seats only eight people. That could be a problem at Thanksgiving or Christmas not only for my family but most families, particularly if you’re Italian.

The landscaping was perfection, laid out in lovely zones for chatting, swimming, eating or just relaxing with a good book. The garage was a teeny bit on the small side. By the time we put the Ferrari (included in the prize) and my Ford Escape in the garage, my honey’s vehicle would have to sit outside in the snow. While dozens of Perrier bottles and vintage boxes of Corn Flakes artistically lined the kitchen pantry shelves, in reality most of us don’t use our pantry shelves for artistic expression. Real-life cupboards are jammed with an assorted variety of half-used boxes of cereal, cookies and biscuits, Tupperware bins of dusty flour, sugar, raisins and other comestibles as well as open bags of chips, oily bottles of condiments, bags of pasta, extra cases of pop and spare rolls of paper towels. There is no logical rationale for having this mess visible from the kitchen.

hh! Excuse me while I read for a while before my snooze.
Ahh! Excuse me while I read for a while before my afternoon snooze.

The washed oak herring-bone flooring and neutral porcelain tiles were divine and something I would love to have in my own home. I really did like the library and true to the Brian Gluckstein esthetic, it reached to the second storey. The beauty and warmth of this room was enhanced by shelves of lovely leather-bound matching encyclopedias, law books and other visually attractive volumes. Somehow I don’t think my trashy paperbacks, beauty and decorating how-to books, magazine collections, self-help guides and tattered cookbooks would have the same cachet on those gorgeous shelves.

While I am a huge fan of Brian Gluckstein, all this suggests I’m just not cut out to live a life of the rich and famous. Perhaps if I didn’t do my own laundry, entertained family and large groups of friends at a restaurant rather than at home, played bass guitar in a boy-band or never stocked actual food and supplies in my pantry, the house might work for me. As it is, it’s just not me. So, when I win the Princess Margaret show home (which I will because I bought several tickets), there’ll be a large For Sale sign on the front lawn. Just make the cheque payable to Lynda Davis. And clear the track for Justin and Kathleen who will be there with their hands out for their share.

Click here for my review of the 2013 show home.

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Experiencing history through the occupants of The House By The Lake

house1The only thing I enjoy reading more than historical fiction is historical non-fiction and The House by the Lake* is one of those rare books that keeps you turning the pages even though you don’t want it to end. Author Thomas Harding (the original family name was anglicized from Hirschowitz) chronicles his family’s history in relation to a cottage in Germany built in 1929 by Harding’s great-grandfather, Doctor Alfred Alexander. Located on a small lake about twenty-five miles southwest of Berlin in a town called Groβ Glienicke the cottage serves as the main character for the story and a metaphor for the history surrounding it.

Dr. Alexander was a successful Jewish physician in Berlin after the First World War, whose famous patients included Alfred Einstein and Marlene Dietrich. As his fortunes improved, Dr. Alexander hired the same architect who designed his medical offices to design a weekend and summer country home for his growing family including his wife Henny and four children, Bella, Elsie and twins Hanns and Paul. As in Canada, these dwellings or cottages are not full-time residences and Dr. Alexander’s cottage is thereafter referred to in the book as “the lake house”.

The story actually begins in the late nineteenth century with a description of how the land on which the cottage was built was part of an estate that was later subdivided to permit the building of weekend homes on leased land. The early history is relevant as it impacts subsequent legal issues that arise surrounding ownership of the property and cottage. As the Nazis rise to power, the Alexander family is forced to flee Germany. With two daughters falling in love with and marrying British citizens, emigration to England was made possible for the entire family.

During the 1930s and 1940s the lake house was leased to various tenants according to the political climate at the time. Eventually it became obvious the Alexanders would have to give up on any claim on the cottage when the property became part of East Germany in the 1950s. An early temporary wall was built between the cottage and the waterfront which eventually became part of the Berlin Wall, a permanent concrete double-walled barricade blocking any access to and view of the lake.

When the Berlin Wall was dismantled in 1989, Thomas Harding, the British great-grandson of Dr. Alexander became curious about the property and began researching and visiting the site over a period of several years. Although the family had given up pursuing any claims on the property, under German law any properties and buildings that had been unlawfully taken from original and legitimate Jewish owners as a result of Nazi persecution were deemed to remain titled to the original owners. Due to the progression of time and a series of increasingly disinterested tenants, the lake house had fallen in disrepair and was slated to be demolished. Harding recognized the historical significance of the building in Germany’s history and lobbied for it to be restored and made into a museum.

In a brilliant interpretation of “if these walls could talk”, the author carefully outlines the history of the lake house and the people who lived there over the years. We see the passage of time in the twentieth century in a small German community from the perspective of the people who were its owners, its occupiers and its tenants over a period of more than eighty years. The characters are well-defined, without judgement by the author and the carefully researched story is accompanied by original photographs and floor plans of the cottage as it evolved over the years. Subtitled One House, Five Families, and A Hundred Years of German History, The House by the Lake is quite simply a fascinating story and I hated to finish the book. An extensive section of footnotes at the end allowed me to learn even more after I finished reading the book. If you’re a fan of history and particularly how the history of Germany unfolded during the twentieth century, then you’ll love this book. I certainly did.

*Not to be confused with The Lake House, a book of fiction by Kate Morton.

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The hairacy of the American election is predictible

Which one will be hair today gone tomorrow.
Which one will be hair today gone tomorrow.

Many years ago I read that the presidential candidate with the best hair always wins the American election. The evidence confirms that no bald guys (or gals) since Eisenhower have qualified and everyone from John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton seems to bear this out. More hair = more votes. There has been a lot of discussion about Donald’s Trump’s hair (or whatever it is) but, surprisingly, not much has been said about Hillary’s hair. Ordinarily, as a feminist I would object to too much attention being paid to what Hillary was wearing or her hairstyles if the same attention weren’t being directed at Trump’s clothing and hair. But they seem to be running neck n’ neck with Hillary’s pantsuits getting as much air time as Trump’s hair (or whatever it is).

Oh dear! Enough said.
Oh dear! Enough said.

So, I’m going to go out on a rather strong limb here and predict that the American election will be won by . . . Hillary Clinton . . . by a hair, a bountiful, full head of it, the real thing. Bill and Hillary are both gifted in the hair department with Hillary’s only misstep being a few years ago when she yielded to daughter Chelsea’s suggestion that she grow her hair long beyond her shoulders. The result? Hillary looked like a hag. Then she saw the light and went to a good stylist who gave her the flattering modified bob she sports today.

Really?
Really?

Trump’s saffron textured coiff on the other hand defies description. It reminds me of the greaser styles the tough guys wore in the fifties—front dip, duck-tail at the back, low side-part comb-over and too much hair on the collar. Apart from his racism, anti-feminism, his out-of-control stratospheric ego, blatant dishonesty, misogeny and general lack of understanding of real life, Donald will lose the election because Hillary is follically the better candidate. I guarantee she’ll win by a hair—an abundance of it.

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The Bridge Ladies will resonate with Boomer women

bridge2Mother/daughter relationships are as complex and varied as the romantic kind. Some are loving, understanding and supportive. Others are fraught with angst, accusations and animosity, and many land somewhere in between on the spectrum. In her memoir The Bridge Ladies, Author Betsy Lerner mines her relationship with her own mother through the lens of her mother’s bridge club women who have played together for more than fifty years.

Lerner describes her childhood and growing-up years in terms clearly relatable to Boomer women. Where our mothers were circumspect, played by the rules and for the most part didn’t rock the boat, the Boomer generation rebelled. Lerner eschewed her mother’s penchant for immaculate grooming, instead opting to go out into the world with no makeup, with wet hair and little regard for fashion. By engaging in premarital sex with different partners, smoking dope and seeking a career in the professional world instead of the home, Lerner dismisses her mother’s entire value system. Growing up in an upper middle class Jewish community may not have been everyone’s personal experience, but the differences between our mothers’ expectations of life and what Boomer women expected resulted in a great deal of conflict between the generations. Our mothers did not have the opportunities we have enjoyed and very often the most they could hope for was a kind husband who would provide a safe environment while they raised the children.

Female friendships are the staff of life. Just don't make small talk during a game.
Female friendships are the staff of life. Just don’t make small talk during a game.

One significant difference between our generation and our mothers’ is the level of intimacy with close friends. The Bridge Ladies rarely shared their deepest emotions and certainly not during their weekly meetings. Marital problems, difficult children, even deaths in the family were borne stoically and silently by our mothers. They rarely aired their “dirty laundry” and preferred to maintain a polite facade of control and discipline. Boomer women, on the other hand are open and forthcoming with any and all information about our personal lives. If one of us has “the vag” our entire circle of friends knows about it and offers support. There are no taboos or unmentionable subjects in discussions amongst Boomer women. We share our innermost secrets with each other and count on this sharing to help us over the rough spots.

Predictably, as Lerner reaches middle age, she sees her mother emerging in her own personality when she decides to learn to play bridge and sit in with the The Bridge Ladies whom she has known her entire life. She probes their life experiences for signs of what makes them tick, their coping mechanisms, their true emotions. She finds it difficult to extract the kind of information she shares so freely herself but does manage to connect within the context of their life experiences. The author’s descriptions of the bridge ladies’ conversations, clothing and accessories, homes, condos and husbands is precise and informative. We can envision these people in our own lives.

I’m not a card-player and was once informed that if I couldn’t get euchre through my head then I wouldn’t stand a chance at bridge. Lerner’s bridge lessons and learning curve are more meaningful if you have an understanding of the game but it’s not necessary and the book is an easy read regardless. She approaches the subject and her characters with humour and affection. While her own mother had a tendency to micro-manage her daughter, my mother took the opposite approach. My own mother was non-confrontational and always supportive and protective while being cautious. Reading The Bridge Ladies heightened my awareness of my relationship with my own mother and gave me a further appreciation for how lucky I was. If it can do that for you too, then that’s reason enough to read the book. You’ll enjoy it.

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The devil made me do it . . . and I’m not sorry

Ain't she sweet. . . just a struttin' down the street.
Ain’t she sweet. . . just a struttin’ down the street.

I just bought my first-ever Barbie doll. She’s not for a grandchild, a niece or anyone else—she’s all mine and her name is Hudson’s Bay Barbie. For my non-Canadian readers, The Hudson’s Bay Company is Canada’s oldest department store, founded in 1670 as a trading post. The iconic striped blankets were like cash registers—with the black lines used for measuring the piled height of animal pelts (sorry fellow animal lovers) for trading merchandise by early trappers and settlers. Today, we’re more sophisticated; we just pile cash and credit cards on a scratched arborite countertop while waiting for a non-existent sales associate to materialize.

Barbie dolls debuted in 1959, a bit too late for me as an early Boomer to play with but we did have paper dolls or “cutouts” as we called them. Countless hours were spent carefully cutting out the paper evening gowns, mink coats, day dresses and sporting outfits from books for likenesses of June Allison and Jane Powell, bending the fragile paper tabs over their tiny cardboard shoulders and strutting them around. My personal favourites were my Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor paper dolls who offered unlimited juicy scenarios for role-playing as they fought over Eddie Fisher, made up, went to movie premieres and generally lived a life that was rich in my imagination. I was too old to play with dolls when Barbie came to market but I remember my namesake cousin Barbie playing with hers, cutting up old fabric scraps and whipping up crude little dresses on Aunt Betty’s treadle sewing machine.

My Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds paper dolls provided hours of fun fighting over Eddie Fisher.
My Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds paper dolls provided hours of fun fighting over Eddie Fisher.

A few years ago Holt Renfrew offered a limited edition Barbie by Kate Spade that I absolutely adored. She was wearing a rich emerald green wool coat and her little white Maltese dog (just like my little Gracie) stood sweetly by her side on a dainty leash. At more than three hundred dollars, however, that Barbie remained a distant dream. Then, like the Sirens’ call, Barbie beckoned me again when I spotted a more affordable version and one that also captured my heart. Hudson’s Bay Barbie is only $59.99 and call me a sucker but I had to have her. Perhaps I’m going a bit balmy but I liken it to old retired guys finally buying the Corvette they’ve always wanted but couldn’t afford when they were young. I couldn’t resist the call.

I have a love/hate relationship with The Hudson’s Bay Company. On one hand, I love their stores and merchandise but I hate their customer service. It drives me crazy that I can never find a sales associate to help me and the check-out registers are as hard to find as wine at an AA meeting. They could take lessons from Nordstrom who provide plenty of staff for assistance and their sales associates always take the time to walk around the counter to hand me my lovely silver shopping bag and thank me for shopping there. They make me feel valued and special.

I hope this isn't the start of something bigger.
I hope this isn’t the start of something bigger.

So, I’m somewhat conflicted about endorsing Hudson’s Bay by purchasing their Barbie but . . . I love her with her tiny traditional point-striped blanket coat, her little leather tote bag with the newspaper and insulated cup peeking out, her ubiquitous Canadian wool toque, statement glasses and her little dog with its matching striped sweater. You’re welcome to come over for a tea party and play with my new Barbie; just don’t expect me to start whipping up tiny glittery evening gowns on my old Singer. Like me, she’s a classic and will remain so. The big question now is, because she’s a limited edition, should I crack open the packaging and prop her up on her little stand where all my friends can admire her and touch her little outfit or just leave her sealed up and strictly for show?

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Kathleen Wynne has some serious ‘splainin’ to do

Where on earth does the buck stop?
Where on earth does the buck stop?

It’s obvious from the current uproar on the internet and in the press that Ontario taxpayers are completely fed up with Kathleen Wynne and the hydro fiasco. I don’t need to detail the frustration with our electricity bills doubling in the last year leaving many families forced to choose between allocating monthly budget money to electricity or food. What really galls us is that the Ontario government gives away surplus electric power to outside interests at the expense of taxpayers. Ontario produces more electric power than we can use. Taxpayers have been conscientiously conserving for years and despite this, our costs to use are the highest in North America. I addressed our beefs in a recent blog (click here for Are you as fed up with Hydro and the Ontario Liberals as I am?). The more we conserve, the more we are penalized.

Wynne’s recent condescending concession of a reduction in the HST portion of our bills is insulting, inadequate and, frankly, laughable. Ontario Power Corporation/Ontario Hydro or whatever they call themselves these days has been a runaway train for generations, a virtual money pit with no accountability. Anyone who has lived in this province for any length of time is familiar with the obscene level of fat and waste surrounding hydro operations. I would have infinitely more confidence in our government if they’d ordered a complete third-party independent audit of OPG and its operations within and by the government, followed by a major purging of waste and inefficiency.

Don't under-estimate us. We've had just about enough!
Don’t under-estimate us. We’ve had just about enough!

The fact that we taxpayers seem to have no say over the mismanagement of our hydro dollars is a tragic testament to “government by the people”. Where are our MPP’s, our opposition party leaders, our government’s very conscience? Where is all our money going? Why are we paying more than any other jurisdiction in North America when supply is plentiful? Is there no accountability at Ontario Power or the provincial government? While low-income families feel the effects the most, all Ontario taxpayers should be contacting their MPPs and demanding action. It’s decades overdue. Don’t make us storm the Bastille, but we will if we have to.

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