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‘Tis the season for a Miss Manners refresher

Globe and Mail columnist David Eddy has again printed a letter from a reader frustrated and disappointed that she never received a thank you for a shower gift. Eddy advised politely addressing the issue with the gift recipient by gently letting her know you would have appreciated a thank you note. This should be done in person but an email is also acceptable. And it wouldn’t hurt to remind the recipient that they “should probably send one every time they receive a gift”.

Two years ago I published a piece on the dearth of manners in many young people today. Notwithstanding baseball hats being unacceptable at the dinner table or failure to offer your seat to a senior on the subway, certain lapses are just unacceptable. It’s a parental failure for not teaching basic manners for sure but that doesn’t excuse people for not taking the time to thank gift-givers for wedding, shower, birthday and graduation gifts. If your parents didn’t teach you basic manners, you can easily learn by observing others who did get proper instruction when they were growing up.

My girlfriends and I have had this same discussion many times and since it seems to be an ongoing issue, I’m republishing part of my earlier post. Feel free to share if you can relate:

Thank you for your thank you

In David Eddie’s Damage Control column in this morning’s Globe and Mail a reader asked for advice on how to handle ungrateful recipients of birthday and Christmas gifts who never sent a thank you or even an acknowledgement that the “gift” was received. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends who share this concern are legion. When someone takes the time to tuck a cheque or gift card for a slice of their hard-earned income into a birthday card which they’ve gone to the store to purchase, put in the envelope with a stamp they’ve also purchased and walked it to a mailbox, how difficult can it be for the recipient to email a quick note or email saying, “Thanks so much for your birthday gift. I’m saving for a new bicycle and your cheque helps bring me closer to my goal.”? After all, young people spend hours a day texting.

Hosting a dinner party or barbecue can involve considerable time, effort and expense. Be sure to follow up with a thank you.
Hosting a dinner party or barbecue can involve considerable time, effort and expense. As a guest, be sure to follow-up with a thank you.

With the convenience of email there’s no excuse for not taking a few seconds to thank someone who has done something kind for you or remembered your birthday with a card enclosing a cheque or gift card. And when a friend has taken the trouble to shop for and prepare a lovely meal for you or hosted you over a weekend, a thank you is meaningful. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it doesn’t even have to be a fancy card. A simple email will do the job.

When I was still working, I always took the time to send a note of thanks for corporate gifts that I received at Christmas but as someone who also gave corporate gifts, I know that unfortunately this wasn’t the general practice in business. Boomers are now aunts, uncles and grandparents which means we’re frequently the giver not the receiver and we appreciate the appreciation. Am I right? David Eddie and I think so.

Click here for David Eddy’s Globe and Mail article “How can I get my relatives to show some gratitude?

Click here to order Miss Manners’ Guide For the Turn of the Millenium by Judith Martin from Amazon.

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Help! I’ve O.D.’d on black and white

Oh dear!

At what point does safe, so-called classic dressing become just plain boring? We’ve always been told that basic black and white is a never-fail look for any occasion. It’s safe, easy to assemble and accessorize and we can be assured of never feeling self-conscious. I’ve religiously adhered to that principle for far too long and my closet now looks like a nun lives here. It’s time I kicked the “habit”. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many pairs of black pants I own, not to mention black and white blouses, tee shirts and sweaters. How many times have we shown up for lunch with girlfriends when most if not all of us are wearing some combination of black or white pants and top?

Assembling a travel wardrobe is one instance however when I think black and white is recommended. Who cares if you wear the same outfit several times? You can easily rinse out pieces in hotel sinks if they need freshening up and an assortment of colourful scarves brings a basic look to life. It makes packing easier and lighter while relieving us of wondering what to wear. Easy peasy.

Susan Street wearing pants in Malibu Punch convinced me to give it a try.

Summer should be about colour. It took some mental convincing to force myself to buy a pair of pants at Chico’s this spring in a colour called Malibu Punch which is a kind of coral-pink. Seeing them on a baby boomer fashion blog that I follow (susanafter60) persuaded me that they could work and I’m glad I bought them. And, naturally, I have a million white tops to wear with them. Now, I’m waiting for a sunflower yellow linen blazer to go on sale at J. Crew and when it does I’ll have another piece to brighten up my wardrobe and my spirits. It’ll look amazing with all those black and white pants I own as well as both dark and light skinny jeans.

As a side note, I’ve recently become a convert to Chico’s who opened stores in Canadian malls within the last couple of years. They also have a great website for online ordering. I don’t care for their entire line but some pieces are wonderful for boomers and their pants fit perfectly. Try on a few to determine your correct size as their sizes are numbered 000 (seriously?) to size 4 (comparable to XXL or size 20) with half sizes and include petites. I’m 5 ft. 3″ tall and their size 1 petite fits me perfectly. Prices are affordable and they have great sales. If you visit the United States, they have a sister company located in most major malls called SOMA which specializes in wonderful lingerie. I load up when I visit the States.

Few women wore white jeans and a black tee shirt better than Jackie Kennedy. However, lacking her innate beauty and grace, I need a bit more help. While I still lean heavily on that classic black and white look, I’m making a serious effort to brighten up my wardrobe. Summer sales are now on and I intend to change my habit and go for pink, blue, yellow and red.  Even though I know I already have far too many white tops, just the other day I scoped out a cute little sleeveless blouse I saw in the window at Massimo Dutti in the mall. Fortunately they didn’t have my size or I’d have another one to add to my collection. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I actually have some white tops in my closet that I’ve never even worn. Needs and wants are very different. Can’t resist the siren’s call.

Check out Susan Street’s fashion blog at susanafter60.

chicos.com

 

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Sharing the joy of reading

Not in my world.

I’m a voracious reader but not a fan of book clubs; I prefer to only read what I truly enjoy and not analyze the bejeezus out of it. Reminds me too much of all those painful high school English classes with Mr. Crowther asking “what did the author mean?”. Good grief! Who but the author really knows what he or she meant. I’m just in it for the fun of reading. I have an extensive spreadsheet summarizing books I want to read—recommendations picked up from friends, The New York Times or The Globe and Mail reviews, magazine reviews and other sources. My detailed ‘To read’ chart includes?

  1. the title of the recommended book
  2. author’s name
  3. a few words describing what the book is about
  4. who or where the recommendation came from
  5. the date when I actually read the book
  6. its rating on a scale of 1-10.

I have to keep track because as soon as I finish a book and move on to the next one, I’m challenged to remember what I just read (which explains why when I was in high school in the olden days, memorizing reams of material for exams was not my forté). Does this level of tracking sound a bit excessive? There are so many books I have to cover in the short time I have left on this earth and I’m not about to waste time on something that doesn’t totally engage me and lift me up.

And she lived happily ever after.

Reading is a cheap and effective way to vicariously travel to foreign countries, experience other cultures, eavesdrop on conversations between fascinating people, engage in a plot for the downfall of a corrupt individual or organization, fall in and out of love, learn about strange events or just simply learn something new, all in the comfort of my LaZgirl. As I said in an earlier blog, the best investment I never made was my library card. What a deal.

Like most bibliophiles, I love the feel, texture and even the smell of a lovely hard-copy old-fashioned linen-covered book, but I’m also a huge fan of e-reading. I’ve gone through many iterations of e-readers and settled on the iPad mini as being my favourite digital reading device. While I’m sitting in Five Guys scarfing down forbidden french fries and Diet Coke, I can hide my face in whatever book I’m currently engrossed in. And nothing beats several books downloaded onto an e-reader for convenience when traveling.

What I like and don’t like

Historical fiction is my favourite genre but I also like:

  • autobiographies and biographies
  • books by and about strong women
  • humour (who doesn’t love David Sedaris?)
  • classical Russian literature including Tolstoy, Chekov and Dostoyevsky (go figure??)
  • some of the current best-sellers.
  • I’m a big fan of Canadian and British female writers.

With all those options, I don’t have time for what I don’t absolutely love. If I start a book and don’t love it within the first couple of chapters, then it gets tossed. This means that many books that were commercially popular or acclaimed by the literary big-wigs did not pass muster. So, when I publish a book review on BOOMERBROADcast, you can be sure it’s a book I enjoyed. There are many books I’ve attempted (sometimes multiple times) to read without success and had to abandon for various reasons:

  • Anything by Ayn Rand. Really?
  • Alice Munro is a Canadian literary goddess. But I find her books boring and tedious. Sorry. Guess I’m just not smart enough.
  • Rachel Cusk also leaves me cold. I’ve tried her Transit Trilogy books three times now, without success.
  • I’m ambivalent about Margaret Atwood. I enjoyed her early writing and Alias Grace, but couldn’t get into her dystopian trips. Although I didn’t enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it thirty years ago, I love the television series.
  • The Fifty Shades of Gray series did not make the cut. After the first few pages, I found the writing almost laughable. For those who did enjoy them, more power to you—you’re reading and enjoying yourself which is always a good thing.
  • Surrealism and sci-fi aren’t my thing so I couldn’t get past the first few pages of Harry Potter, anything by Tolkien, or the Twilight series. I’m obviously in the minority about Harry Potter but I did try and as soon as we landed on Track 13½, that was it for me. Moved on.
  • I’ve tried reading Zadie Smith without luck. After about fifty pages of NW I gave up but I may give her another try.
  • I’m very circumspect about anything recommended by Oprah as most of the books she recommends are just plain depressing. When she made a big fuss several years ago about The Secret by Rhonda Byrne I thought I’d give it a whirl because it was about positive thinking. Who couldn’t benefit from a bit of that? Most of the material was copped from other writers and mentors and I felt ripped off. Waste of time. Hated it.

Reading and writing are my two favourite activities, or more accurately, lack of activity. I’ll pick up greasy magazines in the waiting room while I’m getting my oil changed; I’m a magazine junkie. When I enter a bookstore or library I can feel my heartbeat accelerate as I’m confronted with all the marvels on those beautiful shelves. Cereal boxes, picture books, airline safety brochures—put it in front of me and I’ll give it a go. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being engrossed in a good book for hours at a stretch—one of the benefits of being retired.

My personal taste in reading is purely subjective, whittled down after years of trial and error. My friend Alice loves mysteries and fortunately the public library seems to have an endless supply so she’s all set for years to come. Valerie can’t resist a good self-help book and my father, at the age of 92 has just discovered Danielle Steele on his retirement home bookshelves and is enjoying her books. Most of my girlfriends enjoy the same kind of books I do so we trade books and titles constantly. Everyone has their own individual preference in reading material and if you enjoy the same kind of books I do, you probably enjoy my regular reviews. At least I hope you do. I’d love to hear suggestions from readers of BOOMERBROADcast in the “Comments” about books you’ve enjoyed. We’re probably on the same page so let’s share the wealth.

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Keep calm and carry on

Several years ago my husband and I toured the war rooms in the cellars beneath the Admiralty building in London, England. This underground bunker is where Winston Churchill, his generals and advisors spent time during WW II planning strategy and saving themselves from being bombed into oblivion. The tour was a fascinating experience with everything left exactly the way it was on May 5, 1945. The clocks stopped at 5:00 p.m. and cigarette butts still sit in the ashtrays. Seeing all the seemingly ancient telephones in different colours for different lines was odd when compared with today’s technology.

Several other things struck us as amusing. In addition to fake rats scattered throughout (for authenticity) there was only one functioning toilet in the entire complex and it was reserved for Mr. and Mrs. Churchill. The rest of the pit dwellers used large metal lidded cans like garbage cans that were emptied daily. (Don’t know what you had to do wrong to earn that job.) There were many quaint signs on the corridor walls including daily weather reports about the world above. People who were often entombed below ground for days or even weeks on end were supposedly uplifted by reading little blackboards that said “Fair and mild” and the famous “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

The cabinet war rooms in London, England. WW II’s answer to “safe space”.

Prime Minster Theresa May has her hands full these days. While not as challenged as Sir Winston Churchill, she’s had her share of stress with the killer B’s—Brexit, Bombings, Burning Buildings. She may want to consider retreating to that cozy little haven under the Admiralty building to regroup, strategize and escape the flak. It’s an environment free from parliamentary heckling, unhappy voters and bad British weather. And as a bonus, it’s bomb-proof.

The entire world seems to be under siege these days, whether home-grown or from foreign bullies. We have economic, political, social and environmental issues that seem insurmountable. Then there’s the NAFTA, NATO and immigration fiascos. We’ll try to “Keep calm and carry on”. .  and hope it gets better. War and conflict, whether military or economic leaves senseless casualties and is entirely preventable. Experience has proven, however, that we have to stand up to the bullies in order for good to prevail. I only hope our political leaders have the intestinal fortitude of Winston Churchill but somehow I’m not confident they do. Let’s hope diplomacy and cooperation prevail before it’s too late for this fragile world in which we live.

Maybe it’s time to call in the professionals.

Turning off the news and tuning out the noise is one way of constructing my own personal safe space but the problems persist. I’m thinking it might be a better idea to jet off to London, England and seek shelter in Churchill’s bunker. The phones don’t work in the bunker and there’s probably no cell signal or WiFi either. I’d be insulated from all the bad news and I know for a fact there is at least one working toilet. I’d have to download hundreds of books on to my iPad to fill the days. But the lack of sunshine could turn me into a very grumpy girl and no one would like that, so perhaps I’d better just soldier on in my own home in relatively safe Canada. Compared to the problems experienced by the rest of the world, there’s definitely no place like home. And there’s no place I’d rather be.

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In the search for my perfect computer match, it’s a man’s world.

One size does not fit all. What fits him does not fit me.

Like most people I probably spend far too much time in front of my laptop checking Facebook, reading emails, e-shopping, blogging and otherwise managing my life. And most of the time, my neck, shoulders and back hurt. Did you know that all office furniture is designed for the average male, 5 ft. 11″ tall? Just another example of a male-dominated take on how the world goes round. Despite all the high-tech considerations that go into designing computer desks I have not yet been able to achieve ergonomic nirvana. Let’s back up a little and I’ll explain how this situation came about.

My old typing teacher knew what she was talking about.

When I learned to type in high school in the early sixties, we used manual typewriters. Part of our training required we sit with our forearms parallel to the floor with our feet side by side and flat on the floor. As a result of that being drilled into my head more than fifty years ago, I still cannot veer from my training. Whenever I sit and type with my legs crossed at the ankles or (worse) the knees, the circuits linking my fingers and eyes to my brain become hopelessly scrambled. Unless my feet are flat on the floor and parallel, to this day I cannot type without making errors. When I assume the proper posture, the words fly by error-free. Therefore, like famous speed-typist Mavis Beacon who set records in the fifties for her error-free typing speed (176 wpm on a manual typewriter), I must have ideal conditions to perform at my optimum level. For this, I need optimum ergonomics, which I do not currently have.

There was a reason the typewriter surface was lower but modern office technology seems to have bypassed that consideration.

In the olden days, office desks had slide-out typewriter shelves that were positioned exactly 27 inches from the floor, a full five inches lower than the surface of the desk at 30-32 inches, which as stated above was designed for a 5 ft. 11 inch man. At 27 inches a ‘typist’ (i.e. female) could keep both feet flat on the floor, forearms parallel to the floor and type with minimal discomfort to shoulders, neck and arms.

In a step backwards for feminism, the advent of computers, both desktop and laptop, the typewriter shelf was eliminated from desks and everyone regardless of size or gender is now forced to work on a surface 30-32 inches from the floor. Are you following all this? I’m a right-brainer with zero aptitude in math and even I get it—standard desk surfaces are up to five inches too high for the average female to type comfortably. No amount of adjusting chair heights corrects this anomaly.

Ouch!
  • Raise chair five inches. Feet no longer sit flat on floor and are left to dangle around base prongs. Thighs are crushed against bottom of desk surface or drawer.
  • Leave chair at height that allows feet to sit on floor. We are forced to raise arms and shoulders to reach keyboard. Result: strain and pain.

Is there a solution?

One solution is adjusting the work surface to 27 inches which can be done with some adjustable tables or custom furniture. That accommodates the requirement for feet flat on the floor and forearms parallel to floor which is great for typing/keyboarding. But if you’re working on a laptop, the screen is now too low and has to be tilted to a 45 degree angle to read it square on. More head and neck pain. I’ve never understood how people can actually work on their laptops on their laps. I need a solid surface that doesn’t wobble around while I’m typing. And a sturdy chair that supports my back. Perhaps that’s just because I’m old and conditioned by a sixties typing drill instructor.

Achieving ergonomic heaven

Here’s what this 5 ft. 3 inch old boomer needs to be ergonomically comfortable when working on my computer, starting from the ground up:

  • Chair seat 18 inches from floor
  • Keyboard on surface 27 inches from floor
  • Screen centered 41 inches from floor and 16 inches directly in front of my eyes
In order to achieve my ideal configuration, I need a new work surface, keyboard and telescoping monitor. At least I have the right chair.

If I could achieve this combination I would be a much happier and more comfortable blogger. The only way I can see accomplishing this is with custom millwork. If I had a work surface built at 27  inches, I would need the computer screen/monitor mounted on the wall on a sliding or folding bracket that could be pulled out to the correct distance when I’m working or pushed back when I’m not.

In the meantime, I’m condemned to reach my arms up to a height of 30+ inches to use my keyboard. My shoulders are hunched and my back hurts. Thanks to the geniuses who design office furniture, I don’t see a solution on the market that gives the average woman (fifty percent of the population) the ergonomically correct configuration for using a laptop. Just another example of gender discrimination that men don’t even have to think about. It’s still a man’s world. If you’ve managed to stay awake while reading this, let me know if I’m the only one with this problem or are you uncomfortable too?

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Take David Sedaris to the beach or cottage this weekend

The only problem with reading a book by David Sedaris is—it ends. I love his humour and whenever I start one of his books, I try to take my time, savouring each word, each sentence, each paragraph in an attempt to make the deliciousness last as long as possible. But inevitably I can’t put it down and before I know it, I’ve reached—The End. I try to deconstruct what makes his writing so brilliant while appearing so simple. He’s sweet but slightly raunchy, honest and endearingly self-deprecating. His latest book, Calypso is a collection of autobiographical essays examining his life from the perspective of late middle-age. All his books have weird titles with the meaning buried in some obscure reference within the book. I’ll let you find this one yourself. The cover is an hommage to a friend who interprets natural plywood as art. It takes all kinds.

Some of the issues he confronts in Calypso include his perceived physical shortcomings, his three-decade relationship with his partner, Hugh, the tragic suicide of one of his sisters, Tiffany, the interesting people he meets while touring to promote his books, and minutae of his daily life with Hugh. Thirty years after the death of his alcoholic mother at the age of 62 from cancer, he’s still strongly affected by the loss.

I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of shopping for eccentric clothing, like a hat shaped like a toilet brush (shades of the chapeau worn by Princess Beatrice at Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton?), that he and his sister Gretchen like to buy at a store called Kapital when they’re in Japan. He describes shopping expeditions with his sisters as like being ‘in a pie-eating contest, only with stuff. We often felt sick. Dazed. Bloated. Vulgar. Yet never quite ashamed.’. I know the feeling.

Read any book by David Sedaris and you won’t be disappointed.

Sedaris has a respectful and sometimes fraught relationship with his 92-year-old Trump-loving father. The senior Sedaris refuses to leave the five-bedroom family home despite being unable to maintain it or properly cook for himself. He has a propensity for hoarding and uses a flashlight to find his way around the house at night, thereby saving on electricity. Sound familiar? The challenges faced by the family dealing with a stubborn, aging parent are something most boomers can relate to and Sedaris delivers a humorous perspective on the issue.

Calypso is a joy to read from start to finish. It’s a wonderful escape on a warm summer day or a pick-me-up if you’re feeling down. I’d rate it 9 out of 10.

To order Calypso by David Sedaris from Amazon click here.

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