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How to hamper those Halloween pantry raids

You know what it’s like. Every year we pick up Halloween treats from the grocery store, usually two or three weeks before the big night and for some reason the supply mysteriously evaporates before October 31st even arrives. This strange phenomenon is particularly puzzling when it’s something you like. Boxes of Smarties, tiny Mars Bars and potato chips are highly vulnerable while raisins usually remain safely stacked in the pantry.

We have to be so careful about what we dispense these days. When we were kids, the best treats were the always the home-made ones—sugary maple walnut or chocolate fudge, taffy and peanut butter cookies were freely passed out in little orange and black paper bags with witches on them. Our closest neighbours used to pack “special” bags for us “special” kids who lived next door and they were always the best. Now everything has to be commercially sealed and inspected for tampering before being consumed. It’s amazing we survived.

Every year I’m never sure how many kids we’ll get at our door but I plan and hope for plenty as I love seeing the little ones stuffed into their costumes stretched over winter parkas and toques. We live at the end of a dead-end courtyard and are very tricky to find, despite leaving all the outside lights and illuminated pumpkins on. Last year we had only two visitors; one little boy from two doors down and another little 3 ft. superhero of indeterminate gender. I’d stocked up on chips and chocolate bars, then at the last minute sent my husband out to buy red licorice—just in case there was an unexpected deluge.

The bottom line, to my everlasting shame is that last year I ate 90 little bags of red licorice during the first few days of November, all by myself. How else was I supposed to get rid of them? Consign them to landfill? Then, at lunch the other day, my friend Deb made an innocent comment which is a brilliant solution to the annual problem of preventing the inevitable evaporation of treats before the big night, and how to dispose of Halloween candy afterward.

JUST BUY WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE!

Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? One of the guys I used to work with was mortified every Halloween when he was a little boy because his dentist father handed out toothbrushes to his trick or treating friends, and their house inevitably got egged. That’s one approach.

Or, I could distribute sealed bags of kale chips or packets of hand sanitizers. Even stickers might work but I’m afraid of my home being egged if I gave out something like pencils or pens. I’d be happy with that but kids today are far more affluent, more discriminating and not as happy with any old thing as we boomers were. And furthermore, I’ve already stocked up on Smarties and little chocolate bars. Maybe I could eat the Smarties and chocolate immediately (for the sake of the children, of course ) and replace this year’s handouts of candy with recipe cards. Parents and their little ones could then make their own politically correct, nut-free, non-GMO’d, gluten-free, fair trade chocolate treats. Heaven knows, I’ll never use the recipes. And, hold the eggs!

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White Teeth are regular characters in Zadie Smith’s British romp

British author Zadie Smith is not everyone’s cup of tea. I gave up on her novel NW after several tries (thought it was an absolute mess) but I enjoyed Swing Time. I was in a bit of a reading dry spell waiting for several books to become available at the library so I decided to have a go at Smith’s first novel, White Teeth. It’s the multi-layered story of three generations of immigrants living in Birmingham, trying to cope with blending old country cultures and values with their new life in England.

Story lines are built around Archie Jones and Samad Iqbad who first met during World War II when they were both serving in Greece. Working class Archie from Birmingham and Muslim Sammy from Bangladesh bond over a moral dilemma during the war and when Sammy immigrates to England he naturally seeks out his old army buddy Archie. Sammy meets his young bride Alsana on the morning of his arranged marriage and they set up house in London near Archie who is now married to his second wife, a much younger Jamaican girl by the name of Clara, daughter of a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

While Alsana doesn’t think she has anything in common with Clara, they find themselves both pregnant at the same time and soon become friends. The British-born second generation of the two families is when the real fun starts. Archie and Clara’s daughter Irie is slightly less peculiar than her mother, the lapsed Jehovah’s Witness. Sammy and Alsana’s identical twin sons are opposite in personality which causes no end of anguish for their parents, particularly Sammy who vainly wishes them to be traditional and devout Muslims.

Author Zadie Smith.

The book is written in a somewhat satirical style and Zadie Smith has a brilliant ear for local slang and contemporary teenage dialogue. I could so easily picture the conversations and conflicts that transpire between the parents, their offspring and the other colourful characters in the story. She beautifully articulates the Caribbean patois of Clara’s religious mother Hortense, who grew up in Jamaica, with brilliant tongue-in-cheek exchanges between Hortense and her granddaughter Irie. Sammy’s wife Alsana is one of the most interesting characters and I would have liked to see more of her. She’s opinionated, has a temper and is unpredictable.

I really enjoyed White Teeth. For something different and a taste of satire, give it a whirl. I’d rate this book 8 out of 10.

Click here to order White Teeth by Zadie Smith from Amazon.

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Is there a future for lifers in business today?

Who spends their entire working life with one company any more? Does the end of careers spent with a single employer mean the end of alumni associations and their attendant lunches/get-togethers, long-term service awards and even retirement dinners? Most baby boomers probably had more than one job during the course of our decades-long working lives, although there are some who may have spent the majority of their career at one company.

When I started working for Bell Canada (then called The Bell Telephone Company of Canada) in 1965, it was common for people to spend their entire lives working for one large corporation like Bell, General Motors, an insurance company or Ontario Hydro. Those companies attracted new hires with such incentives as paid on-the-job training, benefits and pensions—even though those perks were the last things on our young minds way back then. Now that we realize the importance of company pensions, it’s too late and most companies no longer offer them.

Job security and guaranteed pensions have become an anachronism.

Perhaps we intended to stay with a single employer when we started work. After all, our parents grew up in the Depression and just having a job was something to be revered and appreciated. But as time went on, perhaps we got restless, wanted a change of scenery or were offered a better position at another company. Consequently, most of us had half a dozen jobs or so over the span of our working lives. I did spent a major portion of my working life with EllisDon Corporation (builder of Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome, and other multi-million dollar projects) but I did have enough other jobs to qualify as being well-rounded career-wise.

I was honoured recently to be asked to speak on The Joy of Retirement at an alumni lunch for retired and former Toronto area employees of Coca-Cola Canada. With my baby boomer-targeted blog and a new book coming out, they thought my message would resonate and inspire. In discussions with attendees and fellow speakers prior to the luncheon, it soon became obvious that while we have so many common denominators, we’re not like earlier generations of retired people. We’re healthier; we live longer; we’re working from a different playbook in planning and living out our retirement.

We’re also a vanishing breed in a world of young people with short interest spans who change jobs every couple of years. This means the day will soon come when there will be no alumni associations because workers will no longer identify with a single employer. Any friendships we develop with co-workers are most often maintained by individuals themselves as corporations lend very little support to the alumni ethos. The old days of “Bell Pioneers” and other groups of retirees supported and respected by their former employer may be numbered.

One of the lessons I learned during four decades in the corporate world is that there’s no reward for loyalty in business. Those all-nighters we pulled to meet a deadline, the weekends spent working instead of being with family, the stress associated with our jobs will not be noted on our tombstones, nor would we want it to be. It is most certainly not noted by our former employers. Having watched their parents or grandparents sacrificing so much for their jobs, millennials have rejected this mindset by insisting on more balance with their personal lives and much as it irks me at times, I can’t fault them.

So, as we pay out of our own pockets for those alumni lunches, let’s enjoy the company of our former coworkers as long as we can. Those people understand what we’ve been through together and they share our joy in being retired, as no one else can. Those lunches are just another one of those dinosaurs going the way of long-term service awards and company pension plans . . . and baby boomers.

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There must be intelligent life beyond weed

Will the never-ending news about the legalization of marijuana in Canada ever stop? I’m sick to death of the monopolization of every form of radio, television, internet and print media for weeks focussing on nothing but the pros and cons of our newly legal recreational and therapeutic weed. I’m sure it’s a fascinating subject to many people but I’ve had enough of the over-reporting. It’s like watching O.J.’s white Bronco all those years ago.

I think I finally understand  the difference between THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which has mood elevating effects and CBD (cannabidiol) which is primarily used for medicinal purposes, although I had to Google it to be sure. As someone who stops after a glass or two of wine (which I enjoy enormously, but had to curtail because it gives me an instant hangover), I really don’t like my brain operating beyond my control. Just a personal preference not shared by many people, but I am what I am.

The chemical analysis and application of various strains of weed and its attendant effects on human beings has been discussed, analyzed, explained and debated by so many sources for so many weeks lately I should be an expert by now but mostly I’ve tuned out. Being a non-smoker means that when my ailments require me to look at its medicinal properties, I’ll probably opt for the gummy bears or brownies. I have no objection to getting a little help with pain or sleep issues, but getting high is just not on my radar. For those individuals who feel the need to self-medicate or alter their mood, that’s none of my business. We all have different ways of getting through life.

Oh Canada!

Canada’s liberal attitude toward marijuana, gay marriage and other social issues is to be commended. Our prisons are full of recreational users who probably should not be there. Baby boomers came of age when it was still illegal to be homosexual in Canada. It was finally decriminalized in 1969 although persecution in the military and police forces continued for another twenty-five years. I’m not qualified to present a case for or against illegal drug use but I am proud that Canada is finally eliminating the criminal aspect of using recreational weed. The end of liquor prohibition didn’t result in America descending into Dante’s inferno and neither will the legalization of marijuana. There will be problems for sure, but it’s up to us as a society to manage the inevitable bumps in the road and over time that will happen.

Now that simple possession of marijuana is legal in Canada, maybe our nightly news can once again return to its regular, unending reporting of murders, stabbings, wars, robberies, car accidents, rip-off scams, political disasters and other everyday events. Can you believe, I’d almost welcome it. It’s time to move on, with a little help from our friends.

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Anne Tyler satisfies the woman in us

Reading an Anne Tyler novel is like eating an Oreo cookie. It’s predictable, consistently chocolate and always satisfying without competing for any great culinary baking stars. Her latest book “Clock Dance” has all the usual ingredients—a baby boomer woman, a reckoning around home and family and it’s partially baked in Baltimore, Maryland, a familiar setting for Tyler novels.

Willa Drake is the older of two sisters born into a typical family of the 1960s. Her father is steady, solid and the salt of the earth. Her mother, on the other hand, is more high-strung and ‘passionate’, prone to fits of anger and mood swings that regularly leave the family confused and hurt. Willa is frequently put in the position of having to be the ‘mother’ to keep the family functioning.

In college she starts dating Derek, deemed to be a good catch. When he wants to get married before she graduates, she’s reluctant but in the interests of not rocking the boat, she acquiesces and embarks on a predictable life of babies, working and getting on with life. By the time her two sons are ready for college, her husband is killed in a road rage incident. Willa’s life is naturally lonely after she’s widowed. When her sons leave home they maintain only minimal contact with their mother and their lifestyle choices are very different from her own. She remarries in an act of acquiescence disguised as optimism.

One day she receives a telephone call from the neighbour of her older son Sean’s ex-girlfriend, Denise. Denise was accidentally shot and her hospitalization leaves a nine-year-old daughter without a caregiver. Even though the child is not Sean’s, Willa feels obliged to travel from Arizona to Baltimore to temporarily care for the child. Her new husband grudgingly accompanies her but does not share her generous nature and ultimately returns home to Arizona. Willa develops a bond with the fatherless (and temporarily motherless) little girl and soon becomes part of their eccentric little community.

I didn’t find this book as engaging as Tyler’s earlier A Spool of Blue Thread but it was a nice way to pass the time. Willa’s passivity and general “goodness” at times made me want to scream “Grow some backbone” but that was Willa’s character as defined by Tyler and she’s not me. Anne Tyler’s books are always a good read. It’s a pleasant way to pass the time. I’d give it 7 out of 10.

To order Clock Dance by Anne Tyler from Amazon, click here.

To order A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler from Amazon, click here. For my review, click here.

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What’s with boomerang kids? Then, now and still?

We’ve all read about the 30-year-old man whose parents took legal action to evict their large so-called adult child from the family home once and for all. A few years ago we met a couple who resorted to selling their home and moving into a small condo in a last-ditch effort to ditch their immature, dependent son. It worked. Oh, that it should come to this.

While most baby boomers can’t imagine living with our parents a day longer than absolutely necessary, it seems we’re the generation that launched the unlaunchable generation. A much smaller proportion of boomers went to university than today’s young people, not only for economic reasons but also because there was not as much emphasis and insistence upon post-secondary education when we graduated in the sixties and early seventies. When we finished high school we considered ourselves launched and headed off to the big city to get a proper job, earn money and begin our lives.

The high proportion of young people today still living with their parents past the age when they should be off on their own got me thinking about why this has become so ‘normal’. Let’s take a look at why we were so anxious to cut the cord and today’s young people are not.

  1. Real life is not easy. The parents of boomers, also known as The Greatest Generation, lived through the Great Depression and many were veterans of World War II. They knew genuine hardship and made sure we appreciated every single advantage we had growing up. Everything was hard-earned and nothing was taken for granted. They instilled these values in their baby boomer children while simultaneously offering us a better life than they had. Helicopter parenting was unheard of. I clearly remember one day during my working years when four people in our office (including two Vice Presidents) were working on their kids’ school projects. How does that teach young people responsibility and accountability?
  2. Freedom. We had to be home for meals and frequently had to help prepare those meals and hand wash the dishes after. We had multiple chores to do around the house for which we were most certainly not paid. If we were disciplined by a teacher, we got it again when we got home. Parents defended the teachers not their precious misbehaving children. Parents were clearly our parents and not concerned with trying to be our friends. By the time we finished high school, we were anxious to be free of parental restrictions and go out on our own. It’s called growing up and I don’t see how this can be construed as a bad thing.
  3. Economic responsibility. Weekly allowances were just enough to get us into the Saturday matinée and perhaps buy a comic book on our way home. When we ran out of money, the supply dried up. We had to collect pop bottles for extra change. When we were old enough we got after-school or weekend jobs, babysitting, cutting grass, waitressing, whatever we could do to earn extra spending money. Today’s young people just ask for money and it’s handed out freely. How does that teach fiscal independence and responsibility?
  4. We learn from our mistakes. Despite our parents having high expectations, boomers were given plenty of latitude to make mistakes. We hurt ourselves; we made bad decisions and had to deal with the consequences; we were accountable and often had to make restitution for our mistakes. That’s how we learn to become responsible adults. Our parents knew that protecting us from physical and emotional hurt (within reason) was not character-building. They were there to pick us up and get us on our way again but they made sure we learned the lessons we needed to learn from our mistakes.
  5. Gifts are for birthdays and Christmas. It’s shocking to see the volume of toys and games children today have at their disposal. Boomers received toys and gifts on birthdays or Christmas only, and they were modest by today’s standards. A bicycle was special. Many of us did just fine with hand-me-downs. My own two-wheeler had been owned by two girls previous to me before my father bought it from a neighbour and repainted it for my birthday. Monopoly and Scrabble were high-end, expensive gifts. How is it possible to truly appreciate a gift when a child already has everything. I understand some parents are now discontinuing the distribution of loot bags at children’s birthday parties because they can cost parents up to $200.00 in total and children are so spoiled they usually toss the contents anyway. Material consumption is way over the top for everyone, including us old boomers.
  6. Your first home does not need granite countertops. How many boomers grew up in a 1,000 square foot house with one bathroom for a family of five, one phone and one black and white television? When we left home, we often shared a room in a boarding house or packed three girls into a one-bedroom apartment to afford the rent. By the time I’d rotated through a series of spartan accommodations over a period of several years when I started working, I was thrilled to finally be able to afford my very own walk-up bachelor apartment on Vaughan Road in Toronto. It had a claw-foot tub in the ancient bathroom, no countertop at all in the itty bitty kitchen—just a big, deep laundry sink, and I had to walk several blocks with my bundle buggy down to St. Clair Avenue once a week to do my grocery shopping and go to the laundromat. But it was mine and I loved it. Even when boomers got married, we didn’t expect to buy a house immediately. We lived in a cheap apartment while we scrimped and saved to accumulate a minimum down payment on a starter home ‘way out in the burbs. No granite countertops. No ceramic flooring in the kitchen and bathroom. No air conditioning. When I got married the first time, we didn’t even have a clothes dryer in our first home because we couldn’t afford the full complement of appliances. I hung clothes to dry in the basement for the first couple of years we were in our new (town)house, and I was in my thirties.
  7. Money is not fairy dust. It must be earned not sprinkled from above. Having skin in the game always makes the outcome more meaningful. When parents and grandparents keep bankrolling young people after the age when they should be launched, they’re enabling dependence.
  8. The boomerang didn’t come back. Returning to our parents’ home after we left was not an option. There was no safety net because our parents made it clear we were grownups and we were expected to fend for ourselves. Once we left, we were off the payroll, permanently. And we were usually still teenagers. That forced us to get our shit together and get on with life.

How much support is a young person really entitled to?

I recently read an essay in The Globe and Mail written by a young woman who felt universities should be providing much more support in terms of mental health services and guidance for students transitioning into the working world. She felt lonely, isolated and disillusioned living in her tiny studio apartment within walking distance of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where she got her first job. The more I read her essay, the angrier I became. First of all, it’s the parents’ responsibility to instill independence in young people, not the university’s. This young woman graduated with no student debt; she spent holidays with her parents in Maui and there was no mention of having worked summer jobs or internships. Clearly, she was one of the entitled and ill-prepared for the real world. The comments from readers that appeared under her column were unanimous in telling her to grow up. Life is not easy and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you develop coping skills.

Every generation has its own identifying characteristics. The Greatest Generation lived through the Depression of the thirties, worked hard, fought in World War II and hatched baby boomers. Boomers discovered rock n’ roll, the sexual revolution and amazingly, the digital revolution. Gen X piggybacked on and benefited from the freedoms introduced by boomers. Then, along came millennials who are often maligned for being entitled and spoiled. No doubt, many do qualify for this distinction but not all. Each generation tries to improve on what they grew up with.

Young people who are independent, resourceful and prepared to start life with less than their parents spent their entire lives working for are more likely to succeed and become better citizens. Life truly is not easy and baby boomers themselves have been responsible for enabling boomerang kids and grandkids. Have we created a monster that’s forever going to need constant feeding and nurturing like the thirty-year-old whose parents needed the courts to boot him out? I’m not sorry I won’t live long enough to see how much longer this false foundation will stand up.

Take a look at this Baroness von Sketch example of a coddled Millennial applying for a job. It sure made me laugh and I think you’ll enjoy it too. Says it all:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MU1Qe16E1E. 

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