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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It’s the most wonderful day of the week


Mondays come with multiple benefits. Not only because I’m retired and no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work but also because Monday is change-the-sheets day. When we’re retired, it’s often those simple things that give us enormous pleasure. I”ll never understand how people can wake up in the morning and go to work or start their day without making their bed. The only thing lovelier than sliding into nice, smooth, cool sheets at the end of the day is when they’re freshly changed. In our house, that happens on Monday. When I change the sheets, I hang the freshly laundered ones outside to dry—screw the local bylaws. It’s environmentally friendly and they’re hung below the fence line where no one can see them.

Don’t you agree there’s nothing more delicious than sliding into a freshly made bed with crisp cotton sheets that have been air-dried and the pillow cases ironed with a spritz of lavender linen water? I even cheat and change the pillow cases mid-week to rush the experience. Is it a boomer broad thing, or am I the only peculiar one? My friends and I even have an acronym for it—CSD—clean sheets day. My friend Margaret loves the experience so much. she immediately hops in and has a snooze on CSD.

Bonne nuit.

I’ve yet to meet a man who understands our pleasure. My mother always loved CSD and my father was oblivious. My husband doesn’t get it either. Maybe it’s because we’re usually the ones who do the laundering and changing so we’re true aficionados of the ritual. Oprah gets it; her sheets are changed every second day, which is particularly gratifying when you have staff to do the work. The only downside I’m finding is that as I get older and my back gets weaker, it’s becoming harder to pull and lift the heavy corners of the mattress to tuck in those fitted sheets. I need Oprah’s staff to give me a hand, or better still, do it for me.

The reward will come tonight around 10:30 when I slide into bed, propped up with a good book in my hands (it’s currently by Zadie Smith, but more on that another time), snuggled up with my honey and my little Yorkie and a smile of satisfaction on my face. It’s a well-earned and delicious pleasure. Sweet dreams mes chères.

Click here to read There’s work and then there’s ironing


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TWICE . . . we found a prize inside


If it’s true things happen in threes, then I hope our lottery tickets are the next big win. Twice this week we’ve been the recipients of unexpected prizes, or more accurately surprises inside something we brought home. The first could require some ‘splainin’ by my husband but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt about how this gift came about.

He took his car in to get some work done. The shop needed a few days so he was sent to Enterprise to pick up a rental. Coming home with a navy blue Hyundai Santa Fe, he was less than impressed compared with how much he loves his Ford Edge, but c’est la vie. It’s only temporary. The disappointment was mitigated however by the little bonus he found in the vehicle. With a giant smile on his face, he came in the front door waving a little green package that you can appreciate has enormous value to a pair of old boomers (a.k.a. seniors) like us. The previous users of the rental Hyundai left behind a pair of bedroom slippers under the front seat and a pregnancy test kit in the glove compartment. At least that’s the story he told me. You can imagine the “mileage” we’re getting out of that one.

It’s been a bountiful week.

Our second big score was hidden in the lunch he picked up (one of the reasons I love him) at Five Guys on his way home from golf. When I finished eating and slurping the last dregs of my fountain Diet Coke, I popped the top off the cup to pour the ice that was still rattling around in the cup down the drain and out fell a plastic nozzle that probably came off the pop dispenser. I’m now debating how to pursue recourse for that one. Am I entitled to a free drink? A free lunch? A year of free lunches? Or will they charge me with shoplifting?

It’s been a bountiful week and we’re obviously on a winning streak. Much as I’m tempted to start making lists of all the lovely goodies I’m going to buy with my lottery winnings I’d better play it safe and wait until the money is in the bank. As the previous occupant of that Hyundai rental sadly now knows, better safe than sorry. In remembrance of our Paradise By The Dashboard Light days, maybe we should just leave some condoms in the glove compartment, call it a day and walk home.


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What do you want to be?


The Beatles even wrote a song about it:  “She’s Leaving Home” and it’s one of my favourites.

When young people graduate, they are officially launched and become full-blown adults. Hopefully these two milestones occur simultaneously. But I keep reading about the stresses faced by young people in choosing their college or university career path. They demand greater support from mental health services to help them cope with the stress. How on earth is a teenager qualified to determine what he or she wants to do with the rest of their lives when they’re still coping with acne, learning the ins and outs of the opposite sex and micro-managing their social media profiles.

Even today, at the age of 70 and with more than 40 years of work experience behind me before I retired, if someone asked me what I would like to do with my life I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory answer. Sure, I’d like to edit a leading-edge women’s magazine or write best-sellers that would make me rich. But how realistic are those goals? Expecting a young person to know the answer to that question can be soul-destroying. Pick a course of study that’s too restrictive and you’re denied flexibility. Pick the flexibility of an arts degree and what are you trained for? Not an easy choice.

What complicates this decision, in my opinion, is the misguided direction to “do what you love”. I think that misleads many young people into thinking that’s the key to success. It creates false hope because it’s not always possible to earn a living and support a family when all you really enjoy is playing video games, making music or taking selfies (the Kardashians being the exception to the rule). It’s not always practical or possible to earn a living doing what you love. Aptitude may be lacking. A favourite activity may not lend itself to a sound business case. Loving writing does not mean you’re going to be a successful author. In fact, few authors are able to support themselves with their writing. The same applies to acting, art, music and even technology. Although individuals with strong technological skills have a better chance, particularly if they know how to write code. Sometimes doing what you love must be relegated to a side hustle not the full-time job.

When baby boomers were finishing high school in the late sixties and early seventies, there was not as much emphasis on post-secondary education as there is today. Most of us were never asked “What do you want to be?”. We simply left home, moved to the big city and got a job with the telephone company or an insurance company. If we were career oriented, our options were teacher, nurse or secretary. Boomer guys could work for Ontario Hydro (which in retrospect would have been the best career choice if you consider benefits and pension), become a mechanic or get a job at General Motors. Once that was accomplished, we started assembling the components of what eventually became our lives. There was no great discourse, no years of scholastic preparation, no months of consultation with parents and guidance counselors and no particular stress involved. And since most of us did not go to university, no crushing student debt.

I also worry that extensive post-secondary education may lead some to naively believe that high-paying employment automatically follows. There are many people with several degrees and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans who are unemployable. Women’s Studies and Psychology are wonderful subjects to study but a tough fit in the world of business. While all this pressure on young people to pursue multiple degrees continues, there’s a serious shortage of electricians, plumbers and tradespeople. Not everyone is well-served by attending university and there should be greater encouragement for those who opt for alternative careers. We must remember that educational institutions are still businesses that need customers so further education accompanied by its attendant debt is encouraged.

When I was still in the corporate world and in a position to hire young people, I never looked at marks applicants got in school. Other qualities such as interpersonal skills, creativity, motivation, energy and resourcefulness were more valuable in the world of business. Most of what we needed to function in the working world (with the exception of doctors, nurses, teachers and other trained professionals) we learned on the job or developed through supplementary training throughout our working lives.

In a way baby boomers were lucky. We escaped the “What do you want to be” pressure. We were happy to just have a job and personified the Bloom where you’re planted” ideology. Most often, we were happy to break free of the restrictions of living at home and get out on our own. We worked as receptionists, bank tellers, manual labourers, secretaries or salespeople when we finished school. From there, we ran with whatever we were dealt and many of us did very well in spite of our lack of education and degrees. I’m glad I’m not young anymore. I don’t think I could take the stress of deciding what I want to be. I’m so glad I’m old.

 

 


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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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Does anyone else in Toronto wonder where Lake Ontario went?


Chicago citizens can enjoy views and access to Lake Michigan.

A recent visit to Chicago dramatically reminded me of what is missing in Toronto—our Lake Ontario shoreline. When the great Chicago fire leveled their downtown in 1871 the city displayed great foresight and generosity when they decreed it illegal for private builders to monopolize the Lake Michigan shoreline. Consequently, Chicago now enjoys an incredible twenty-seven-mile long park that ensures the lake is forever accessible to its citizens.

While I don’t advocate setting fire to downtown Toronto to get rid of unsightly buildings and planning blunders, I do think our city planners need to rethink what’s happening to our waterfront. We’re literally losing sight of it. Ugly high-rise condos are obliterating our view of Lake Ontario and the problem is only going to get worse. It’s difficult to stop a moving train but short of land-filling a new shoreline even further into the lake, what are our options?

Toronto. No green. No vistas of public spaces.

I used to love glimpsing the sparkling lake from Lakeshore Boulevard as I passed along the south side of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. Even the grotesqueness of Ontario Place obliterating our view of Lake Ontario was alleviated by the whimsical faux farm silos which always made me smile. They’re gone now to be replaced by another poorly planned urban eyesore.

In the sixties, boomers used to catch the ferry to the Toronto Islands at the foot of Yonge Street. Back then, the waterfront in the harbour was still visible as we lined up at sunny outside turnstiles and paid our 25 cent fare to hop aboard the Sam McBride. The Toronto skyline was defined by the Royal York Hotel and the old 32-storey old Bank of Commerce Building on King Street West. I could see Lake Ontario from my room on the south side of Willard Hall on Gerrard Street.

Where’s Lake Ontario? Hidden from view.

Driving east or west on the Gardiner Expressway through downtown Toronto these days is like negotiating a slow train through a concrete jungle. We go nowhere, see nothing but faceless buildings and otherwise have no clue we’re a stone’s throw from one of Ontario’s beautiful Great Lakes. The view may be spectacular from offshore, but from land side, sadly, there’s nothing to see. I know progress is inevitable and we can’t undo the damage that has already been done to our waterfront views. It’s a shame our city managers have allowed this to happen. I just wish they’d had as much foresight and courage as Chicago did in 1871.


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Hearts, not heads prevail


Emotion trumps logic. That statement explains so much. Like why the Americans elected Donald Trump as their President. Or why the Canadian government is building temporary housing for asylum seekers crossing into Canada illegally at remote border points instead of turning them back to follow proper channels. Why should Canadians be spending tax money to house and support illegal immigrants when legitimate immigrants who follow proper legal channels often have to wait years? It makes no sense. Or why British Columbia is blocking the pipeline. As many Britons are now realizing, Brexit was obviously an issue influenced more by feelings of nationalism than practicality. So many unexplainable outcomes are the result of human beings letting their hearts overrule their heads. It’s why so many women fall in love with bad choices in men. I did. Once. When I was very young and stupid. Learned my lesson.

We know we shouldn’t put that designer purse on our credit card because we can’t live without it. But the smell of fine leather and the dreams of being transported into a rarefied stratosphere of pleasure overrules common sense. We can’t afford to get the oil changed in the car but we can rationalize dropping the equivalent of a month’s rent on a luxury consumer item. Those designer sunglasses cost more than groceries for a month but we slap down the old credit card despite the obvious stupidity of the purchase. Instant gratification beats logic.

Tattoos are cool and everyone is getting one. Do you still want to live with a faded, wrinkled, distorted picture of a rose after it’s endured thirty years of wear and tear on your forearm? What seemed like a good idea at the time may not be as appealing down the road. A bad choice in hair colour grows out. Tattoos do not.

Men also aren’t immune to the pull of instant gratification in consumer purchases. It’s mind-blowing how they can rationalize purchasing a shiny new truck or SUV without having the cash in the bank. In fact, I’ve observed that men’s toys generally come with a much higher price tag than women’s. Vehicles, boats and electronics aren’t cheap. The experts are right when they advise it’s not always in our best interest to try and outbid someone with deeper pockets just because we can’t imagine not owning that house. No one’s immune. Men, women, governments, voters, corporations, even really smart people fall prey to the pull of the heart, often with disastrous results.

One of the greatest benefits of aging is the wisdom that usually accompanies it. Baby boomers have made more than our share of mistakes and bad decisions over the years and we’ve learned a lot. Hopefully most of my mistakes are behind me. But, I’m still acknowledging the infallibility of the adage that heart generally trumps head, and the truth is when I look at the world around me, some things never change. It’s mind-boggling—the eternal conflict.


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Girls just gotta have shoes


The objects of my affection.

It was love at first sight. As soon as my eyes landed on that incredible pair of Jimmy Choo python pumps in the May issue of Vogue I found myself longing not only for the shoes but for my twenty-year-old feet to put in them. Even though it’s been years, or more like decades since I’ve been able to strut my stuff in killer heels, the old longing and feeling of empowerment bestowed on us by stilettos never leaves us. I could so easily picture my former self wearing those python beauties around the office in my power suit or slipping them on with skinny jeans (the jeans, not me) for a stylish stroll through the mall on a Saturday. Just looking at those babies made my heart beat faster; my imagination conjured up fantasies I haven’t had in years. There was a giant smile on my face just thinking about the possibilities those beauties could bestow on my life. Boomer women totally understand how Cinderella was completely transformed as soon as she put on those magic glass slippers. It’s no fairy tale.

If only we could buy new feet.

In the late sixties and early seventies I lived and worked in downtown Toronto. Too broke and too cheap to invest in subway tokens, I hoofed it everywhere—in heels, usually on the run. From Bloor Street to Front Street I made my way around the downtown core to and from work, to meet friends, to shop and out at night, always on foot. And those young, size seven feet were always shod in the latest fashion. I’ve twisted ankles falling off my platforms, caught spike heels in sidewalk grates and suffered burns and blisters on the balls of my feet from the heat of summer sidewalks burning through thin leather soles. Not once did I think my feet would outlive their best-before date.

Baby boomer women now have a different set of criteria when shopping for shoes. Toe cleavage and strappy high heels have given way to arch supports and low heels with rubber soles, and not the kind the Beatles sang about in 1965. Back in the day, our shoe purchases were treated like decadent works of art, affirmation of our sexiness and stylishness. I’d actually set newly purchased shoes on the diningroom table to admire them when I brought them home. Or I’d place them on my night table so they’d be the first things I’d see when I woke up in the morning. Talk about getting a high. Gorgeous shoes were like little magic carpets that carried us into a fantasy land where we were invincible. And, unlike dress or pant sizes, shoe size was immaterial. In fabulous shoes, our feet looked great no matter what size they were.

After clomping around in rubber sandals I recently squeezed my feet into a pair of stylish suede boots that don’t see much action these days. My back hurt from bending down to put the socks and then the boots on and my feet felt like they were going to explode by the time I got home from shopping. Mes pieds are just not used to such harsh discipline and they object strenuously to any form of confinement. I soooo miss the feet I had when I was twenty years old.

I wonder if those python Jimmy Choos come with industrial strength arch supports and cushy rubber soles? If I win the lottery, perhaps I’ll buy them and prop them up on my mantle, just to admire them like the works of art they are. I could reflect back on the days when I used to listen to the original Rubber Soul in my Mary Quant mini skirts and platforms—back when I could still wear fantasmic shoes. As the Everly Brothers sang so eloquently and in perfect harmony, “All I have to do is dream. Dream. dream, dream”, the siren song of Jimmy Choo and those fabulous shoes.

You’re beautiful mes très chères.