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I Marie-Kondo’d my bra drawer and feel so uplifted

We all know that feeling!

Rachel Hollis, author of Girl, Wash Your Face was right: Bras are the devil’s work. Over my lifetime, I’ve probably invested the equivalent cost of a luxury German imported car in a futile search for a comfortable bra. I’m convinced they don’t exist. Yesterday as I was getting dressed to go out, I tried on no less than three before I found one comfortable enough to wear to the mall. And when I got there I bee-lined it for the Jockey For Her section in the lingerie department in search of something wearable. I opted for one of those sports-like all-over stretch jobs with no clasps, trim or skinny bits to dig in. Much as I hate wearing a bra, a certain amount of decorum is required when going out in public so we’re forced to buckle up.

When I got home the first thing I did, as usual, was rip my bra off. Then, I pulled everything out of my bra drawer, gave each one a quick test drive to determine whether it would live or die, then tossed the rejects into a big pile on my bed. I was merciless. The losers were too tight around the ribcage, didn’t have enough banding around the ribcage, rolled at the ribcage, slipped off my shoulders or simply didn’t properly accommodate the girls without spilling over or accentuating back fat. Am I too demanding? I don’t think so.

In theory this system should work but in the real world it varies widely according to manufacturer.

There was a time many generations ago when I was so proud to wear a bra. When my mother took me to buy my first 28AA I felt so grown up. There was also a time when we were young that I loved buying all the lacey little contraptions that passed for a bra. But when we reached a certain age, comfort and performance became priorities, while still achieving a level of sexiness and femininity. I’ve been measured many times at different stores and every one comes up with a different size combo. I accept that our size is not static and changes as we age and gain or lose weight, but maybe we need a computer-generated modelling system to get it right once and for all. If they can do it for jeans, why not bras? Could someone please task their grandchild to create an app for calculating the correct bra size by manufacturer and style? The old ribcage measurement combined with breast size just doesn’t compute in the real world.

Hence, the huge pile of discarded bras on my bed. Only six (6) survived the purge, including the new Jockey-For-Her number I picked up yesterday. That should be enough by anyone’s standards but I have a feeling I’ll soon be on the prowl again. Fourteen (14) regular bras and eighteen (18) sports bras are destined for the dumpster (Yes! That’s a shameful total of 32), except textiles should not be thrown in the trash, so what do we do with them? That’s a lotta landfill. I’ll parcel them up for for charity, if they’ll take them, as most have hardly been worn. Hopefully they’ll be useful to someone else. The Canadian Diabetes Association recycles clothing and I understand H&M stores have drop boxes for recycling clothing. 

Then, I attacked another drawer full of camisoles and tank tops worn over bras under certain blouses and sweaters. The work never ends. It’s a shocking and embarrassing thing to admit but how could any one person possibly need or wear 33 camis? We all have too much of everything and the recent culling of my bras and camisoles is a prime example of our excesses—well, mine for sure. Now I actually have a couple of empty drawers in my bedroom and I won’t have to forage through dozens of rejects to find something to wear.

No longer burdened by a surplus of ill-fitting, uncomfortable bras, I feel strangely uplifted. Kondo was right, sort of. It wasn’t about keeping only those that sparked joy (I can’t imagine any bra actually sparking joy) but more accurately getting rid of things sparked the real joy. I recently took a pile of clothing to the consignment shop and a couple of bags of discards to the charity box. Imagine how I would feel if I dared go down to the basement and tackled that quagmire. Naaah! I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the fruits of my lingerie liquidation before I get into something under foot that might be over my head. I’m feelin’ fine. Let’s just keep it that way. Have you had a good purge lately?

Yep! A total of 32 bras of different types are heading for recycling.
As well as 33 camisoles and tank tops.
I really think sports bras are the best solution and I have no objection to a uni-boob.
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I Marie-Kondo’d my bra drawer and feel so uplifted
We all know that feeling!

Leader of French network spying on German military installations during WW2 was a beautiful, courageous young woman

When I started reading Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by New York Times’ bestselling author Lynne Olson, I assumed it was a novel of historical fiction—a story built around the experiences of true-life heroes of the French Resistance during World War II. To my surprise and ultimately much more rewarding to read, it turned out to be non-fiction. This book is a history lesson that is long overdue. We’ve read a lot of stories over the years about the bravery and heroic efforts of French citizens who risked their lives and the lives of their families to fight Nazi oppression during World War II from within but most of them pick up at particular points in time during the war and feature male heroes. This book examines the very birth, growth and maturity of the intelligence spying network Alliance, headed by a woman and known by the Gestapo as Noah’s Ark (agents’ had animal code names).

Alliance began with just two people—Georges Loustaunau-Lacau known by the code name Navarre and his second-in-command, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade. They met socially at a party also attended by Charles de Gaulle in Paris in 1936. Marie-Madeleine was only twenty-six years old, an attractive blonde mother of two who lived apart from her conservative military husband. The future of France was fragile under a series of weak governments. Hitler’s growing imperialism and the threat of war were foremost in everyone’s mind. Marie-Madeleine’s obvious intelligence, political beliefs and the fact she owned her own car attracted the attention of Navarre and he invited her to act as courier for an intelligence-gathering network he was creating to support a free France.

Marie-Madeleine proved to be extremely adept and capable at her new job. Her duties multiplied and when Navarre was captured by the Germans in 1940, she assumed leadership of their growing network. At the age of only thirty-one she was la patronne, the boss. Alliance was focused solely on gathering military intelligence while other networks handled sabotage, repatriating allied soldiers and other anti-German activities. She tried to maintain a neutral position throughout conflicting power struggles between various political factions within France, focusing on a common goal of liberating France from the Germans.

Members of Alliance formed cells to report to British MI6 on naval and other military installations that were being built in France, particularly along the south and west coasts. As the network grew, it became more difficult to maintain security. Gestapo and French pro-German police became increasingly more sophisticated in ferreting out resistance fighters and their lives were in constant danger. With strong cells in Marseille, the west coast of France, Vichy and Paris, they were able to radio critical intelligence back to MI6 in England.

Alliance recruited agents from across the spectrum of the French population. They included aristocrats, farmers, lorry drivers, policemen, former members of the military, doctors and priests. Their numbers dropped after the many Gestapo raids and had to be rebuilt. Coding systems, security and procedures were constantly being revamped to prevent detection and were not always successful. There were the inevitable traitors who penetrated their ranks and were the most dangerous of all. Love affairs also blossomed under life and death conditions and even Marie-Madeleine herself was not immune. Although captured, she managed to escape and hold her network together.

Feminism in Europe during WWII was unheard of and the fact that this highly effective network was lead by a woman was significant. Both the German and French governments considered women secondary citizens and encouraged them to concentrate on home and children. Restrictions on women included “the death penalty for performing an abortion, made it more difficult to get a divorce, barred married women from working in the public sector, and ordered all female students in high school to take classes in housekeeping.”

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade survived the war and remained active in French political issues.

This book is nothing short of astonishing—a fascinating read. Although non-fiction, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War reads like a novel. The writing is beautiful and easy to follow. Original photographs of the individuals who were major players are included and lend a personal touch to their amazing stories. The narrative proceeds in chronological order (just the way I like a book to unfold) and the amount of research required to bring this story to print is mind-boggling. I absolutely could not put this book down and even as I tore through it I hated to see it end. Those of us who have never lived through war or foreign occupation cannot imagine the hardships faced by everyday citizens under such conditions.

Her gender was kept secret from MI6 in the beginning and even as agents were recruited some were skeptical that a woman could do the job as well as a man. Her agents provided critical information that shaped the allied effort on D-Day and the push toward Berlin. Shockingly, she proved herself to be superior in every way and loyalty was assured when agents quickly became aware of her capability and leadership skills. After the war, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade did not receive the recognition and awards many lesser male counterparts enjoyed, simply because she was a woman. I rate this book 9 out of 10 and guarantee you will not be able to put it down.

To order Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson from Amazon, click here.

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My Queendom for a decent nightgown

I’m running out of options.

Am I the only person on the planet who still wears nightgowns rather than pyjamas? It’s been more than two years since I’ve been able to rotate some of my old nighties out and replace them with new ones. The reason for this is not because I blew the budget on purses and shoes or that I haven’t really tried. I’ve been scouring the department stores, lingerie boutiques, the internet and everywhere short of dumpsters looking for some new replacement nightgowns. Everything, everywhere is pyjamas, pyjamas, pyjamas. Shorties. Thermals. Dorm-wear. Brothel-wear. Skimpy. Safe. Granny or gorgeous. Every kind of pyjama style, fabric and price point is available but no suitable nightgowns for old boomer broads like me. I’m not particularly demanding but I do have a few specific requirements:

  • Not too short. They need to keep my bum warm under the covers and should keep my knees covered when wearing them around the house. (Who knew boomer gals would grow unsightly muffin top on our knees!)
  • Not too long. I’m not keen on maxi length because I’m only 5’3″ tall and full length usually means I’m tripping over it. Mid-calf midi (not maxi) length would be perfect. Hankerchief or asymetrical hems are a nice touch too.
  • No spagetti straps. They just fall off our shoulders, requiring constant adjustments. Nice tank-style shoulder straps between one and two inches in width would do nicely. Despite the persistence of our hot flashes, we don’t like our shoulders getting cold during the winter.
  • No ruching or elastic under the bustline. Again, this calls for constant attention, untwisting and relocating things.
  • Breathable fabrics. Those hot flashes still blast us every so often and our bodies need to breathe. Cotton jersey knit or bamboo are lovely and the better quality fabrics feel divine.

    This one from Soma in the U.S. is several years old and soft as suede. If it were only about a foot longer, it would be perfect.
  • Feminine, sexy prints are perfect. Dark, solid colours fade in the wash and light colours are too transparent to be worn decently around the house. Animal prints are always fun. Painterly patterns can be lovely too. Orchids, calla lilies and other florals are cheerful. But, no teddy bears, strawberries or bunnies puleez. We’re not children. We’re women who want to be appropriately feminine and a bit sexy, whether we sleep alone or not.
  • Soft fabrics are essential. Preferably something that moves gently when we walk and feels delicious next to our skin. No scratchy, stiff or rough embellishments.

I really don’t think I’m asking for too much. A midi-length tank-style, A-line nightgown in a soft printed fabric would make me the happiest old boomer broad in the world. I used to be able to score what I was looking for at Soma in the United States but even they have abandoned me the last couple of years. Donna Karen sometimes comes out with something acceptable. Natori is a bit pricey and haven’t really created one that I one hundred percent love.

I’m getting desperate. My inventory is seriously depleted and there seems to be no signs of hope to grasp on to. There are always hospital suppliers if I’m willing to tolerate year-round rear ventilation. I’ve considered cheap Walmart-style cotton shift dresses but they’re usually imprinted with childish animals, garish stripes or the above-mentioned teddy bears and they’re not as soft as I would like.

The other day I was so desperate I went into Victoria’s Secret (a store I dislike) and asked if they had any nightgowns. The young nymphette working there looked at me for a few seconds like I was crazy before she shook her head no. The empress has no nightclothes and it’s not a pretty sight.

Am I a freak or does anyone else share my frustration?

 

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My Queendom for a decent nightgown
I'm running out of options.

If I’m ever in trouble with the law, I want Marie Henein on my case

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman with criminal defence lawyer Marie Henein.

Marie Henein is my kinda gal broad lawyer. She’s the powerhouse who got former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi off on sexual assault charges. And, she’s in the news again leading Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s defence team. He’s the Canadian military bigwig who according to a Globe and Mail article by Janice Dickson on March 6, 2019, “was suspended as the military’s second-in-command on Jan. 16, 2017, and charged last year with breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets in an attempt to influence cabinet’s decision on a $700-million shipbuilding contract with Quebec’s Davie shipyard.” Yikes! Sounds serious. Not only did Henein get Norman off but the Canadian government must now reimburse him for his legal fees, which all but bankrupted him. Very impressive.

So who is the lady with the brass balls, killer dragon manicure and the coolest haircut ever? She’s someone I’d absolutely want to defend me if I’m ever in trouble with the law. So far I’ve managed to keep my nose clean for 70+years but things could change. If anyone ever finds out about those jelly beans I stole from the open bin in the Beamish store in my hometown when I was about six or seven years old, well, there could be trouble. Hopefully that falls under the seven-year statute of limitations. Or that time in the seventies when I left one movie and immediately walked into another one in the adjacent theatre while only paying for one ticket. I know these crimes seem minor but they’re crimes nonetheless and I still bear the guilt. I’d like to know that Marie Henein would be there to plead my case.

There was a time when I could not understand why a brilliant lawyer and professed feminist would choose to represent unpopular defendants like Jian Ghomeshi, former Nova Scotia Premier Gerald Regan who was also charged with sexual misconduct, and former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant who was charged with criminal negligence causing death when a bike courier died as a result of a confrontation with Bryant. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial and legal representation. Some can just afford better representation than others and Henein is effective.

I have Marie Henein on speed dial, just in case.

I once saw her interviewed on CTV’s The Social and was very impressed with her intelligence, her logic and her sense of humour. She also has a killer wardrobe and would be a formidable role model for any aspiring criminal lawyer, male or female. Ever since that two-movies-for-the-price-of-one incident, I’ve walked a pretty straight line when it comes to breaking the law. You’ll never catch me stepping a toe off the curb before the light turns green or not rinsing out my plastic and glass recycling before putting it into the bin.

I’m committed to being a good, law-abiding citizen but should I slip up and get caught for some unknown infraction, I’m for sure going to hire Marie Henein. I’m prepared to sell the house and get my husband a paper route—whatever it takes to pay for her services. I’m too old to do hard time in a cold institution with a high-carb diet and no access to HBO.

When we were kids in school, we were told that Ontario’s official flower, the trillium, is a protected species and it’s illegal to pick them. Since then I’ve always been terrified of accidently tramping on one during a walk in the woods in case there’s a policeman lurking behind the next tree ready to cuff me and lock me up. My fear of the law runs deep. It’s trillium season now so be very, very careful. Don’t cheat on your taxes; don’t text and drive, and do not under any circumstances park in the handicapped spot while you “just nip in for a minute”. But, if you do slip up, call Marie Henein. You can always start driving for Uber or have a yard sale to cover the cost. It’ll be worth it. And maybe she’ll give you the name of her hairdresser.

 

To order a copy of my latest book of essays, 

rants and reflections, BOOMER BEAT

from Amazon, click here.

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Story of Lithuanian struggle after the war is a fascinating read

Whever I read a book like Under Ground by Antanas Sileika  I’m reminded that we won the lottery being born in Canada. The rights, freedoms and privileges that we enjoy as Canadians are shared by so few in the world. After World War II, the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were basically abandoned by the Allies and left to be plundered by the Russians. After being pummelled both physically, morally and politically by the Germans during the war and then the Red Army, Lithuania was a country destroyed. Everyone was considered a traitor to one side or the other.

In a heroic effort to save their country, rebel armies of partisans formed in forest camps. Consisting of former soldiers, students, farmers and workers, the partisans lived literally below ground, in small earthen bunkers they dug deep in pine forests to conceal their location from the Red Army and its supporters. If you ever watched the 2008 movie Defiance with Daniel Craig you’ll have an understanding of the primitive conditions under which the partisans lived their lives and fought their counter-offensive. The main difference is these people were not Jews hiding from Nazis; they were mainly Catholics fighting for their lives and for freedom.

Lukas, a student and the son of a farmer, is forced to leave university after the war because both he and his seminary-attending younger brother are at risk of being deported to a Siberian labour camp. They join the forest-dwelling underground partisans. Lukas is a cut above the average with his intelligence and language skills so he soon becomes a communicator as well as fighter. After two years of feral existence, he marries a female partisan, Elena. Love affairs and particularly marriage are discouraged because love weakens partisans and makes them vulnerable to capture.

During a particularly bloody confrontation, Lukas is separated from his wife and she is shot by the Reds. Through partisan channels and his own wits, Lucas escapes to Sweden and eventually lands in France. Desperate to call attention to the plight of the Baltic states, he begins speaking to expats and sympathizers to help raise funds for their cause. He has become a bit of a folk hero, well-known among Lithuanians for his heroic attacks on the Reds but he longs to return to his home and rejoin the fight.

This book is based on a compilation of true stories kept secret behind the iron curtain for decades. Antanas Sileikais is a Canadian-born author of Lithuanian heritage and a graduate of The University of Toronto. The story spans the final years of the war until 1950 and in an interesting twist reveals a Canadian connection at the end. I don’t want to give too much of the story away because it’s a fascinating read that you should enjoy for yourself. As baby boomers, we are a product of the end of that war and reading this book serves to remind us all how lucky we are that we were born when we were and where we were. This is a 9 out of 10. I highly recommend reading Under Ground.

Disclosure: If you order from these Amazon links, you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission.
To order UNDER GROUND from Amazon, click here.
To order a copy of BOOMER BEAT, my latest book of essays, from Amazon, click here.
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My past is now officially an historical site

The Maclean-Hunter Building at University and Dundas, where it all began for this boomer.

You know you’re old when the once-modern building where you landed your first job has been designated an historical site. On Monday, July 5th, 1965 I walked into the shiny marble lobby of the Maclean-Hunter Building at 481 University Avenue in Toronto to begin my first full-time job. Bell Canada leased space in the building and they’d hired me to start work as a clerk-typist, beginning the week after I finished high school. I was 17 years old and wore a pink and white gingham dress and new white high heels purchased especially for this big day. The day before, my parents dropped me off at the door of Willard Hall, 20 Gerrard Street East, a four-storey boarding house operated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, where I would live for the next two years.

I had arrived from small town Ontario, in the first wave of baby boomers to be released into life as adults in the big city. Willard Hall was full of eager boomer girls like me. We’d all left our small town homes to take jobs as secretaries, switchboard operators, clerks and stenographers for Bell Canada, Ontario Hydro and various insurance companies. Some, like my room-mate Liz wore the traditional white gloves issued by “Manpower” as they began temporary work while awaiting a permanent positions.

I remember that day in July 1965 so clearly. Sitting at the reception desk in the lobby of the Maclean Hunter building was an attractive blonde woman wearing a smart navy blue uniform. She was official-looking and seemed to know most of the people entering the lobby, greeting suited businessmen, women and couriers with a smile and “Good morning”. Her demeanor screamed big city and professional and I wanted to be just like her—very Doris Day. I took the elevator to the fifth floor where I met my new boss and was introduced around the office. My job was to provide clerk-typist services to half a dozen managers in the Buildings, Vehicles and Supplies Department of what was then called The Bell Telephone Company of Canada. My salary was $55.50 a week, more money than I’d ever seen in my life, much better than the sixty-five cents an hour I’d been earning as a carhop in high school. A year later when I moved to Bell’s office tower at 76 Adelaide Street West, they still employed white-gloved uniformed elevator operators.

Bassel’s Restaurant on Yonge St. at Gerrard was where all the Willard Hall girls would go for coffee and a smoke.

Very quickly I made friends with another new hire, also named Linda (but with an “i”) and we soon became known as The Linda’s. We took our breaks together, shared office gossip and generally became attached at the hip—my new BFF, had that acronym existed back then. Linda was a city girl from Scarborough and I had so much to learn about sophisticated Toronto ways from her. In the evenings, she took modelling classes at Patricia Stevens Modelling School which absorbed most of her wages. Linda introduced me to my first compact of blusher, a major beauty revelation for this young townie.

Linda and I ate our lunch in the Maclean-Hunter subsidized cafeteria on the main floor of the University and Dundas building. We paid a nominal amount to load our plates with the daily special, always ordering mashed potatoes and gravy because we were both skinny and wanted to put on weight. Imagine that! That same cafeteria dispatched coffee carts throughout the building mid-morning and mid-afternoon each day when Linda and I would enjoy a hot styrofoam cup of tea and a butter tart wrapped in cellophane. All the mashed potatoes, gravy and butter tarts have since more than done their job to my great chagrin.

In the sixties, Chinatown was still located on Dundas Street between University Avenue and Bay Street. At the age of eighteen I experienced Chinese food for the first time in my life, sharing the ubiquitous “Dinner For Two” with Linda one day at lunchtime. The menu combo remains fixed in my memory: fried rice, chow mein, sweet and sour spare ribs and egg rolls. Authentic Asian or what! I loved to browse the exotic items for sale in the shops along Dundas Street but will never forget my horror the first time I saw dead, roasted Peking ducks hanging in the windows of butcher shops.

Toronto in the sixties, especially Yorkville was vastly different from what we see today.

There was an office tower at 20 Edward Street behind the Maclean-Hunter building that housed Edward’s Books and a drug store on the main floor. We loved going into the drug store on our lunch hour and spritzing ourselves with the tester perfumes that we couldn’t afford to buy, coming back to the office reeking of fake lilacs or the high-class L’air du Temps. Living at Willard Hall, I was able to walk the back streets behind The Hospital for Sick Children to get to work, saving money on subways and soon familiarizing myself with downtown Toronto. Back then, Toronto was much smaller, only a million people, and our weekends were spent cruising “The Village” to observe the hippies on Yorkville Avenue.

The new and improved United Building proposed for 481 University Avenue.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail, 481 University Avenue is now slated to be gutted. The façade will be saved for its historical value while the inner building will be demolished and replaced by a 45-storey tower housing condos and commercial space. Renamed The United Building it will replace the old Maclean-Hunter Building and wipe out any trace of the launching pad of a very famous person—ME.  No brass plaque will mark the spot where I got my start in the working world and there will be no time capsule full of my memories buried in the foundation. But those memories remain. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that more than fifty years later I have evolved from starting work as a typist in the head office building of a major publishing company to being a minor self-published author tapping out blogs for baby boomers. Life really has come full circle and I’m so full of happy memories that began in the old Maclean-Hunter Building. Onward and upward. Literally.

To order a copy of my new book from Amazon, click here.

Great gift for yourself or a friend.

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