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This #GIRLBOSS has her sh$# together

sophia4The first time I heard the name Sophia Amoruso was during a radio interview when she was promoting her new book, “#GIRLBOSS“. This 20-something young woman was describing her path to becoming owner of a highly-successful on-line retail fashion business called Nasty Gal. Her business smarts were remarkable for someone so young and my heart sang when she outlined her advice based on lessons learned that were so in-line with my own that I couldn’t wait to read her book.

Amoruso was the rebellious only child of baby boomers who grew up in San Francisco. Diagnosed with ADD, she was always swimming against the current and attended a different school nearly every year. Never a conscientious or cooperative student, she distinguished herself by wearing strange vintage clothing and generally resisting all efforts by her parents and teachers to conform.

sophia1Leaving home before finishing high school, Amoruso bounced around living the life of a young vagrant who managed to keep herself fed and clothed by dumpster diving and shoplifting. With a peculiar knack for sourcing and selling unique vintage clothing found at thrift and charity shops, she started selling her finds on eBay. This was the beginning of her understanding of the basic principles of work and reward, profit and loss.

Before long, she set up her own website for selling vintage merchandise and like most beginning entrepreneurs she did everything herself including buying, repairing, cleaning, merchandising, packing, and shipping her fashion finds herself. She soon recruited a friend to help and grew her business to 350 employees and annual sales in excess of $100 million in vintage and new clothing sales shipped to customers around the world.

sophia3Still only in her 20’s, Amoruso is an example worth paying attention to. Because she had no credit, her entire business was built on whatever income she generated, her own hard work, a genuine love for what she was doing and  turning the profits she made back into the business. There were no well-researched business plans, bank loans, fancy offices or early investors involved.

I loved the book. I endorse her philosophy. And I highly recommend her book. She’s a kind of anti-Sheryl-Sandberg example in that she had no educational or financial advantages. The business she created confirms that a successful career based on hard work, an original idea and perseverance can be achieved. Good fortune is earned and Amoruso used her own no-cost resources to become her own boss and a successful one to boot.

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Elizabeth is Missing

elizabethFor a debut novel, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is remarkable. The book combines understanding and empathy for dementia with mystery and suspense. Maud Horsham is in her 80’s and while still living in her own home with the assistance of her daughter and a daily caregiver, she struggles with the challenges of memory loss and confusion associated with geriatric dementia. She writes copious sticky notes to herself which she stuffs into her pockets to prompt her memory while her caregiver and daughter leave similar notes stuck to walls and doors around the house to help Maud retain a sense of reality and perspective.

When Maud cannot contact her only remaining friend, Elizabeth, she enters a world of fear, confusion and frustration when no one takes her concerns seriously. She has stopped by Elizabeth’s house, contacted Elizabeth’s son, gone to the police and even placed an ad in the local paper to help locate her friend. This loss is tumbled in her brain with the loss of her beloved only sister Suki after World War II, a disappearance that was never adequately explained.
The early half of the book was at times a bit slow as the reader wades through lengthy internal dialogues Maud engages in to try to make sense of her thoughts and actions. While I understand it is all part of setting the scene, I became frustrated at times with the lack of progress. This little stumble in my opinion is minor compared with the overall cleverness of the plot. It was a fast read and as it picked up momentum toward the end I couldn’t put it down. I’d give it eight out of 10.
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Heather O’Neill bangs it home

saturdayWaiting more than two months to download Heather O’Neill’s new book, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night  from the library was worth the wait. I have a soft spot for Canadian authors and I enjoyed O’Neill’s debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals enormously. She writes about the grittier side of life in Montreal, Quebec through the eyes of a young teenager in her first book and a 20-year-old in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. The main character, Noushcka is the twin sister of Nicholas. They are the illegitimate children of a legendary 1970’s Québécois folksinger Étienne Tremblay and his one-night stand with a 14-year-old girl. The twins were abandoned at birth to their paternal grandparents who raised them in the rough Boulevard Saint-Laurent neighbourhood on the island in Montreal.

An English teacher would be impressed with O’Neill’s frequent and graphic use of similes and metaphors. Her descriptions of cats are sensitive and painterly, “A calico cat was sleeping on its back, like a girl in grey stockings with her skirt pulled up over her hips.” Twins Nouskcka and Nicholas were raised during their impressionable teenage years by their aging grandfather, Loulou on his own after the death of his wife. They drop out of school and despite Loulou’s best efforts they inevitably screw up.

Both twins are precocious and Noushcka in particular displays potential for rising above her circumstances. She is intelligent and is trying to earn a better education at night school so she can become a writer. Predictably, they hang around with the wrong people and get into trouble as a result of being irresponsible and emotionally immature. Like many twins, they share a special psychic bond and feel lost and diminished without the physical presence of the other twin. Emotionally immature Noushcka vacillates between displays of childishness and mature assessment.

As the children of an absentee father who is also a confirmed Separatist, both Noushcka and Nicholas have a strong interest in the political climate in Quebec. The fact that they have hardly ventured further than a few kilometers from their Boulevard Saint-Laurent neighbourhood helps explain their lack of perspective and their naivety. This aspect of their personalities reminded me of people I’ve met in the southern United States known as “crackers” who have often never set foot beyond 15 miles of where they were born. These people have a rather peculiar and innocent lack of knowledge and understanding about how real life functions beyond the confines of their own small community.

blueThe narrative of the book reminded me of two movies I rather enjoyed. In Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, the lead characters fall into the same destructive behavioural patterns as Noushcka and Nicholas. The same fate awaited Drew Barrymore’s character in Riding in Cars With Boys.

ridingThe ending in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night caught me a bit off-guard but I’m not going to spoil it. You’ll have to read it and draw your own conclusions. The book is a clever, well-written description of contemporary life in a small corner of Montreal. I’d give it 8 out 10.

 

 

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Revealing secrets of the Paris Ritz Hotel

RitzWhen I originally downloaded the book Hotel on Place Vendome I thought it was historical fiction but once I started reading I discovered it was non-fiction which pleased me even more. Written and thoroughly  researched by Tilar J. Mazzeo, the book describes the opening of the world-famous hotel in Paris and its evolution from a modest, beautiful boutique hotel to the internationally-recognized institution it is today.

The main focus of the book centres around the years when it was occupied by the Germans during World War 2. Residents included Hermann Goering, who when he wasn’t living a drug-addicted lavish life in the Imperial Suite spent his time looting Paris of its precious works of art. Coco Chanel shared digs with her

Chanel was a permanent resident of the Ritz for most of her career.
Chanel was a permanent resident of the Ritz for most of her career.

German lover who was a high-ranking officer. After the war the couple fled to Austria where they lived for 10 years until his death. No satisfactory explanation has ever been given as to why Chanel did not suffer the same shameful fate as other collaborators. As the liberation of Paris approached in the summer of 1944, the German occupiers fled with as much confiscated artwork and antiques as they could manage.

The allied forces who took over Paris included new occupants at the Ritz Hotel such as Ernest Hemmingway, Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich. Petty disagreements over lovers, ego and accomplishments resulted and do not speak well of the individuals involved. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I thought it could have offered much more information and insight than it did. For that reason I’m giving it 7 out of 10.

 

 

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The joy of menopause . . . the honest-to-goodness truth

The book begins slowly and builds to a multiple orgasm at the end.
The book begins slowly and builds to a multiple orgasm at the end.

Last week as I was watching Bill Maher on HBO, he invited author, speaker and performance artist Sandra Tsing Loh to join the panel at the half-way point in the show. This is usually when the new guest often has a book to promote. More than once I’ve enjoyed this part of the show so much I’ve gone on-line and ordered the book immediately and that’s exactly what happened when I downloaded Tsing Loh’s The Madwoman in the Volvo on to my Kindle before the show was even over.

Subtitled My Year of Raging Hormones, the book describes Loh’s midlife struggle with combining motherhood, overseeing an aging father, a marriage breakup and new relationship and depression while entering that dicey time of life known as menopause. She describes her daily life in terms any working woman can relate to. Driving children to various functions in the midst of domestic chaos, stressing about work deadlines, trying to keep a marriage viable with creative meals and date nights and coping with a difficult aging parent are life scenarios most women can relate to. Loh’s situation is further complicated by having two children who are still in elementary school at an age when most women are seeing their progeny off to college. She finds herself ill-equipped to deal with the noise, the demands and the sheer physical energy required to keep all the plates spinning while she’s experiencing hot flashes, depression, anger, resentment and loss of libido.

maxineAs I started reading I found myself thinking, “This is just another one of those books about how life is demanding, not always rewarding and sometimes you just want to give up. Ho hum, nothing different here.” What makes this book different and so incredibly special is her stark honesty about her shortcomings and coping mechanisms. We can sympathize and empathize with her often hilarious descriptions of dealing with her 88-year-old Chinese father’s issues and the day-to-day challenges of family, work and marriage. Things really picked up in the latter half of the book where she looks deeper into the harsh truths about her own makeup and how she turns things around. She exposes her barnacles and gives us permission to do whatever works for each of us to get rid of them and find our joy. From the halfway point the book just gets better, moving with a nice rhythm, picking up speed and climaxing at the end in a wonderful multiple orgasm of wisdom and support. It’s almost as if you should read the book from back to front.

northrupHappily, The Madwoman in the Volvo is not encumbered with pages and pages of footnotes and bibliography material. It is not a rehash of other people’s research and studies. The only major book she references  is Dr. Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause, a hefty tome that is universally read and respected as the definitive word on menopause issues.  Loh’s book is a wonderfully subjective, humorous recounting of her own experience and recommendations. We are not told to choke down eight glasses of slimy green liquid every day, subject our bodies to yoga and pilates or live on a diet of kale, broccoli and boiled chicken. In fact, trying to add these disciplines to our already-busy lives can often add to our stress levels when we’re barely holding ourselves together.

dwarfsOne of the most interesting things I learned is that our estrogen-fuelled years between puberty and menopause are actually the “unusual” years because we are pumped up with a temporary supply of  hormones (estrogen, progesterone) to cope with mating, child-bearing, mothering, and nurturing. When we hit menopause, our hormone levels actually return to where they were before puberty so we are in fact once again our authentic selves. That’s why she maintains there’s nothing wrong with telling the kids to make their own lunch, leave home or simply grow up. She gives us permission to get more sleep, hire help around the house if we want to and treat ourselves with a little TLC.  Don’t beat yourself up because you’re a few pounds overweight – after all, we didn’t have waistlines when we were ten years old either. After all those years of putting everyone else first, menopause brings us back to square one where it’s natural and not unhealthy to make ourselves a priority. Isn’t that wonderful? No need to feel guilty.  We’re vindicated. Girlfriend—you nailed it. I’d give Madwoman in the Volvo 10 out of 10.

 

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More geezer pleasers please

Last week my guy and I went to see The Grand Seduction, a light-weight movie about the efforts of the residents of a

Residents of Ticklehead, Newfoundland are challenged to save their community.
Residents of Tickle Cove, Newfoundland are challenged to save their community.

remote Newfoundland harbour community to attract a doctor. If they could land a doctor then they could convince investors to build a waste disposal facility to provide jobs for locals no longer employed in the fishing industry. As fans of Rick Mercer and 22 Minutes on CBC and going back even further to CODCO, we both love Newfie humour—smart, sharp and usually deftly delivered. Although a bit corny, we enjoyed the movie even though we were the only people in the theatre.

It’s getting harder to find movies that appeal to baby boomers. While we all enjoyed Quartet and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (based on an even better book called These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach), movies that our demographic can enjoy are few and far between. Hollywood keeps pumping out action hero movies like Godzilla, X-Men, Transformers, Live, Die, Repeat targeted to the 18-35 age group while a huge category of movie-goers called Baby Boomers are barely acknowledged by the so-called brains in the movie-making business. We may be geezers to them but who else has the financial wherewithall to drop fifty bucks on a pair of movie tickets and grossly over-priced popcorn and pop. We love going to the movies and there are millions and millions of us willing to spend our money at the theatre rather than illegally down-loading them.

Zoomer TV’s weekly show on Monday, June 9th on Vision network hosted by Denise Donlon alongside Conrad Black addressed exactly this issue. Wendy Crewson and Mary Walsh were panelists on the Zoomer show and as Boomer Broads they were able to contribute unique zoomerinsights. I found Mary Walsh’s off-hand comments about The Grand Seduction (in which she had a supporting role) particularly interesting because the whole time I watched the movie something didn’t sit quite right with me and she nailed it. That movie, like most movies produced today was a totally male-dominated piece of work—directed, written by and starring men. Wonderful men for sure but the female characters were totally skewed to a misogynistic stereotype. As Mary Walsh pointed out, the leading male characters completely ignored the fact that strong women are actually the community leaders and initiators of community-building projects in these rural areas. By casting the women in The Grand Seduction as eavesdropping telephone operators and witless seamstresses whipping up white cricket outfits for their men, the movie missed a huge opportunity to let the women’s voices be heard through the genius of actor/writers like Mary Walsh to make the movie far better than it was.

The list of movies currently in theatres leaves me cold.  I can totally do without monsters, space aliens, vampires, endless car chases, gratuitous violence, annihilation, and anything with Tom Cruise.  Just in case someone with a bit of influence might read this blog, here are a few suggestions for what we Boomer geezers would like to see in movies:

This movie combined all the things we like in a movie.
This movie combined all the things we like in a movie.
  1. Comedies – A good laugh is always uplifting.
  2. Romance – Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of sentiment. It gives us hope.
  3. Foreign locations – We love to visit foreign locales like Paris, Rome or London for the price of a movie ticket.
  4. Contemporary themes – When the plot centers around people our age we can relate.
  5. History – Whether fiction or fact, we always enjoy nostalgia.
  6. Character study – Getting involved in the lives of complex characters is satisfying and makes for good conversation afterward.

A movie like Monuments Men could have been so much better if the writing had not been so trite and cliché. Philomena was wonderful for all kinds of reasons. Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino is a quiet gem. We loved Bridesmaids for its sharp wit, great physical comedy and intelligent writing. Ditto for The Full Monty. And Dallas Buyers’ Club was just a damn good movie.

Do you get the picture? Please answer our call.

 

 

 

 

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