BOOMERBROADcast

Essays, rants and reflections on life after sixty for baby boomers who rocked life in THE sixties. And lots of book reviews too.


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Is your clean house making you fat?


Every time I come across a new angle or theory on the science of weight loss, I get a little excited thinking maybe there’s some minor tweak I can make with minimal effort in my lifestyle that will give me back the body I took for granted in my twenties. The business of weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry built around feeding our insecurities about how we look. The health and wellness industries throw out the bait and reel us in.

It’s not complicated. We’re a privileged society. There’s so much food available, much of which is unhealthy, that we overeat and don’t work it off. Menopause throws the final wrench in the works making it impossible to stay trim without constant effort and vigilance. University students are familiar with the freshman fifteen (pounds) just as boomer women are familiar with the meno fifteen . . . or twenty, or thirty that happens when we hit fifty-ish. Four years ago I spent an entire winter attending Weight Watchers, losing ten pounds, only to put it back on again. I’m lucky compared to those who work harder to lose even more and pack it all back on. We spend an inordinate amount of time, money and emotional energy on weight issues. What a waste of resources.

We’re so brainwashed about the evils of consuming carbs that enjoying a simple piece of toast with jam can bring on paroxysms of guilt and shame. I love ACE bread and only allow myself to enjoy it toasted for breakfast as a treat on weekends. Living on vegetables and protein alone is never going to work. I try not bring things like ice-cream and cookies into the house, but sometimes a gal’s just gotta have a hot dog. But, as we all know, cheating is a slippery slope. As soon as bread is declared an all-inclusive health food I’m going to eat nothing but toast a least three times a day, for the rest of my life. In the fickle world of health advice, it is a possibility. I keep hoping.

Could this be making me fat?

Then, a few days ago I read in the newspaper that household cleaners have been proven to affect the gut flora in children. When small children are exposed to high levels of the chemicals in cleaning fluids, the good gut microbes are lowered. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the gut flora of 757 infants and children up to three years old exposed to cleaning chemicals resulted in higher BMI (body mass index) readings than those exposed to ecofriendly cleaners.

Naturally, this information leads me to conclude (not scientifically, of course) that the reason I’m overweight is because I’ve been exposed to too many chemical cleaning products for more than 70 years. So, that knowledge combined with the inevitable, irreversible menopause fifteen means I’m wasting my time and money trying to lose weight through traditional commercial health and wellness methods. Either I stop cleaning or I risk decreasing my gut flora and I’ll get even fatter. I think the evidence is pretty clear. Don’t clean. Stay thin. Wouldn’t you agree?


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Are our senior citizens really OK?


The other day I posted a book review that included a condemnation of our tendency to judge people without knowing their background story. In fact, my entire blog is a form of judgement. I did it again this week, at the grocery store. I’ll give you the details and let you be the judge.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for fresh local produce. Does everyone have access?

It’s harvest season in Ontario, the season for juicy, fresh beefsteak tomatoes, peaches and no end of wonderful local produce. Shoppers are checking out with bushels of Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and fruit for preserving. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for fresh food.

As I was standing in the produce section husking corn into a giant bin in the middle of the floor, a small, very elderly, very frail gentleman approached. He was probably in his nineties and his face was sweet and kind looking. His grocery tote was a hand truck he’d brought with him with a single reuseable vinyl grocery bag propped open on the base. He was wearing worn, comfortable shoes and socks, a short-sleeved plaid shirt and beige shorts. His shorts were held up with striped suspenders and where one of the suspender’s clips was broken, he’d used a bit of twine to tie the suspenders to the belt loop of his shorts. This simple piece of twine touched my heart as it reminded me of how resourceful and practical his generation is—those who grew up in the Depression—so different from the obscene consumerism of subsequent generations.

For a few minutes I was transfixed as I watched this stooped gentleman pick three ears of corn and place them in his vinyl shopping bag. An Asian woman standing nearby helped him dig through the bin to find some nice ones. All of a sudden I found myself contemplating his entire back story in my imagination. Where did he live? Did he live alone? Did he drive himself here? Did he walk, pushing his hand truck? How does he manage in winter? Particularly in a large city it’s so easy for these vulnerable people to be forgotten.

Because he was buying groceries, he obviously does not live in an assisted living facility. Perhaps he lives in a nearby apartment or maybe he’s still living in the same little bungalow he bought in the 1950s and is unwilling to leave. Does he have children? Do they visit him and help him out? Is his wife still alive or did she pass a few years ago? Is he lonely? Does he need help? So many questions swirled around in my head for the few minutes I observed him.

I found myself thinking of my own father who is 92 and lives in the most wonderful assisted living residence I could imagine. He’s happy, healthy, well taken care of, still drives and is mentally as sharp as ever. His residence overlooks the Trent Canal in front and Ranney Falls on the Trent River behind the building. It’s an idyllic environment and he’s surrounded by kind, caring people and fellow residents he’s known for decades.

I worry about whether our vulnerable seniors are being cared for.

My dilemma concerns my judgement of the elderly man in the grocery store. My initial reaction to seeing this man was sadness. I found myself wishing he could be living carefree in a residence like my father’s. Then, he wouldn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning or even getting his clothes mended. But perhaps I’m wrong to cast judgement. Maybe he’s living the life he chooses, independent and busy with the simple rituals and routines of daily life. Perhaps my concern is misplaced and he’s happily living his best life. I wonder if and how my husband I will be coping when we’re in our nineties—which isn’t that far off anymore, and if we make it that far. Once again I found myself casting judgement on someone I knew nothing about, however, sympathetic my intentions. I’m still thinking about him, days later. I can’t get him out of my mind, wondering how he’s doing. Is he OK? Are they all OK?

 


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Thoughts on A Room of One’s Own


Spoiler alert: this is not a book review so relax and enjoy some thoughts on serenity. Virginia Woolf knew what she was talking about when she penned her famous story about the importance of women having their own private space in the home. Hers was devoted to writing and reflection. She recognized and advocated for financial independence and privacy in women’s lives. When she was alive in the first half of the twentieth century women were considered second class citizens. Many could not vote, work outside the home, have their own bank accounts or divorce their husbands. Twenty-first century women have much to be thankful for, although we still have a long way to go. Woolf would be pleased to see the progress we’ve made but, time has only confirmed and reinforced her vision. Experts suggest it will be another one hundred years before women have full equality.

My own personal space.

Now that baby boomer women are retiring, a room of one’s own has taken on practical dimensions. In fact, my own special room is literally ten feet wide and eleven feet long. It contains bookshelves loaded with years of loved books. There’s a comfortable off-white twill settee for reading, a computer desk and chair for working on my blog, memory-evoking pictures on the walls including a street map of Paris and a shadow box with a rose from the bouquet my husband gave me on our first Valentine’s Day together. There’s a television that never gets turned on but it’s there if I need it. A cream and taupe rug covers most of the dark hardwood floor and of course, there’s a wee little dog bed for our Yorkshire terrier. A lovely wide window looks out over my husband’s gorgeous hydrangea bushes, a linden tree and a blue spruce we planted the year we moved in. My little room is a genuine slice of feminine heaven and I spend several hours in there every day.

Not only do we need our own space, but so do our husbands or partners. It’s an equal opportunity situation. The high-tech digital age means laptops and televisions are now allocated to individual members of the household. In the case of retired people like ourselves, we each need our own space for working on our computers and I’ve discovered the secret to a happy marriage is separate televisions—one for news, weather and sports (his) and one for HGTV, PBS and other women-friendly channels (hers). Consequently, my honey also has a room of his own with his LaZboy, television, desk and computer. It’s a happy arrangement.

A wee slice of heaven outdoors.

When weather permits (this is Canada, after all), my favourite private space of all is sitting outside in the shade surrounded by flowers and trees in our back yard. I can listen to the birds, feel and smell sweet, warm breezes and maintain a sense of peaceful balance. I can read my books and even tip back in my cushioned faux wicker LaZgirl from Canadian Tire and have a delicious snooze. Life is sweet.

Virginia Woolf’s understanding of the value of quiet time and private space is as relevant today as it was nearly one hundred years ago. Women still need private space and financial independence. The only difference is technology. And we have to be careful that we don’t let technology encroach too much. Do you have a favourite or special spot in your house where you can read, paint, write, knit or simply be? Perhaps it’s a corner of your livingroom, bedroom or kitchen. Maybe it’s a spare bedroom. I hope you are lucky like me and have managed to carve out your own private space. Where’s yours?


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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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Want to feel better about how you look?


You’re beautiful.

Who among us doesn’t look at magazines or at our own bodies in the privacy of bedroom mirrors or in retail store fitting rooms and wish we were thinner, taller or prettier. The media sets impossibly high standards for appearance and even though we know those pictures are extensively Photoshopped and otherwise altered, we can’t help feeling like we fall short. Well, we’re not short, fat or abnormal. Models are genetic freaks. We’re the normal ones. Here are some statistics that will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself:

  • Average height of Canadian women – 5 ft. 4 inches. Any woman over 5 ft. 10 inches tall is in the 97.6 height percentile. Now who’s the freak?
  • Average waist measurement for Canadian women – 35 inches. For American women it’s 37.5 inches. If you’ve ever seen the portions of nutritionally poor food they dish out in American restaurants you’ll understand why there’s a difference.
  • Average dress size – 14. For American women it’s 16-18. Are you listening retail corporate buyers?
  • Naturally blonde hair and blue eyes are genetically carried by only 17 percent of the population. Most Canadians and Americans carry the dominant brown-eyed gene with recessive blue-eyed genes declining each year.
  • Fully 90 percent of women have cellulite—including models and celebrities. It’s the product of female estrogen and cannot be eradicated. This becomes particularly evident once we are no longer teenagers.

Magazines and other forms of media have finally recognized that no one can relate to the genetic mutants featured in fashion and beauty ads. We’re now seeing mature models like Maye Musk and women with normal-sized bodies being featured in media. While it’s tempting to scream “too little, too late” we have to take whatever we can get in the battle to change perceptions of beauty. We’ve achieved a tiny slice of recognition and if we keep the pressure on advertisers and manufacturers we can turn the tide.

The challenge now is to listen to my own advice. Every time I’m tempted to be critical of some aspect of my appearance, I’ll remind myself of how blessed I really am. I’m alive. I’m healthy. I’m happy. That’s more than enough and more than many people can claim to have. You’re beautiful girlfriend and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


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Who cares if it’s swimsuit season . . . again?


Seriously??

Many years ago I read about a magazine editor who quit her job at a high-profile international women’s magazine because she just couldn’t face overseeing another annual swimsuit edition. I know how she must have felt because I can’t face another swimsuit season either. All the current magazines are full of tips on how to match a bathing suit to our individual figure types, how to look our best and feel confident. Pages and pages in the fashion mags have been dedicated to the latest swimsuit styles. The tropical patterns and colours are yummy and some of those scraps of fabric cost hundreds of dollars. The Photoshopped models look gorgeous. The reality is grim.

I’ll admit some styles are infinitely more flattering than others, but let’s face it, we’re never ever going to resemble anything close to those pubescent nymphets modelling the various styles featured in the magazine spreads. In fact, most boomers are even reluctant to go out in public in shorts much less a bathing suit. Those with cottages or winter homes in Florida can’t avoid donning a swimsuit occasionally but they’re usually hidden under diaphanous lightweight cover ups when we’re not actually under water.

I’ll have what she’s wearing!

It is virtually impossible for swimsuit designs to overcome what makes so many boomer broads self-conscious about beach wear. No amount of underpinning, tummy panels, supportive straps or bum tuckers will compensate for what nature has bestowed upon us after many decades of living our lives. By the time we’ve tried on dozens of unflattering designs in cramped fitting rooms with unflattering fluorescent lighting, cried a river, paid our dues at Weight Watchers, spray tanned our cellulite and waxed our lady parts to an unsightly, red rash, we’re fed up with the entire exercise. Sure, they tell us to feel good about ourselves regardless of our body shape—easy to say when you’re in your twenties or thirties. I sympathize with that fed-up magazine editor. This summer you’ll find me sitting in the shade and privacy of my back-yard gazebo, wearing elastic-waist shorts and a tee shirt, reading the latest New York Times’ best seller on my iPad mini. The beach is no longer my thing and even if it were, give me a birkini any day.

You’re beautiful mes très chères.


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The irony of drug marketing


The late Anthony Bourdain.

Last night I watched a series of programs about Anthony Bourdain on Gusto TV. During one episode in particular he spoke honestly about his entry into the world drug abuse, heroin in particular. He sat with a group of recovering addicts in Greenwood, a small town in Massachusetts plagued with the problems associated with opioid abuse. A local doctor explained how doctors freely prescribed Oxycontin and other pain-killers for everyday problems like sports injuries, getting wisdom teeth removed and back pain because the drug companies assured the doctors the meds were not addictive. When patients can no longer get legal pain-killers, they resort to street drugs and heroin. It’s a problem no longer limited to big city slums. Small towns are now victims of big-city drug abuse problems.

Nearly very commercial aired during this hour-long show was by a major pharmaceutical company promoting an assortment of remedies for real or imagined ailments. ‘Just ask your doctor’, followed by an exhaustive list of qualifiers. If you’ve ever watched television in the United States (not U.S. stations in Canada with substituted Canadian commercials) you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve counted up to 13 drug ads in a commercial break with 15 commercials on American television. Just an observation.