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Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who rocked life in THE sixties.


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10 Reasons I’m glad I’m Canadian

Canadian3In celebration of Canada Day I’m re-posting a piece I wrote in July 2014 about why I’m proud to be Canadian.

Watching the scary goings-on in the United States, the Middle East and other parts of the globe, it’s obvious the world is, never has been and probably never will be a peaceful place. There’s always an egocentric dictator or political group trying to make history by making trouble. These events constantly serve to remind me that we won the lottery being born in Canada. Here are just 10 of the reasons I’m so happy to be Canadian:

  1. Seasons. We have four of them and I love all of them, although winter, not so much. In the spring we watch nature come alive again when the snow and icespring2 disappear.  Trees explode in fragrant green leaves. Flowers appear through the wet soil and bloom until the snow falls at the end of the year. Summers are hot but serve to remind us how crappy and long Canadian winters can be if you’re not a skier. We boat, camp, swim in our lakes and rivers and soak up the warm sunshine in outdoor cafés in three of our seasons. And autumn smells like crunchy fallen leaves with unbelievably beautiful landscapes and crisp mornings. Then we dig out a whole new wardrobe of soft knits, saucy little jackets and sexy not-for-snow-boots.
  2. Democracy. Our government is not perfect but it’s far better than most places in the world. We have the right to criticize and should probably be more vocal in our criticisms but as Canadians we’re rather apathetic and polite. We get who we voted for and fortunately most of our leaders are reasonably decent.
  3. Manners. Canadians are known for our politeness and we generally treat each other with respect and kindness. We are a country of tolerant, considerate, law-abiding people.
  4. Tim Horton’s. Need I say more. Witness the unending lineups at any Tim Horton’s across the country. We love their coffee, their steeped tea, their drive-thru’s, canadian1their maple donuts and an atmosphere that welcomes seniors for early morning coffee talk, hockey teams for warm-up hot chocolate after a game, affordable lunches for workers on the run or just a nice place to sit and read the paper by yourself  or catch up on e-mails.
  5. Red Rose Tea. Their commercials used to say “only in Canada” and while I have seen it on American grocery shelves I don’t trust the exported blend. I’m pretty fussy about my tea and take a little Ziplok baggie of it with me when I travel. health1
  6. Universal health care. Thank you Tommy Douglas for getting the ball rolling on this one. Canadians do not have to mortgage their home or cash in retirement funds to get a hip replacement. Again, our system is not perfect, but we are all taken care of when we need medical attention. We believe in taking care of our fellow human beings.
  7. Multi-culturalism. As I look at the intolerance around the world, I’m so happy that I live in a country that embraces our differences. My multiculturalcity, Toronto has enjoyed so many benefits thanks to immigrants from other countries. Not only have these people fortified our workforce, they bring wonderful new foods, customs and colours to our society. We are multi-lingual and we admire our fellow Canadians’ command of different languages.
  8. Human Rights. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic backgrounds or religious preferences, Canadians are tolerant and accepting of alternative lifestyles, as long as they are law-abiding and polite. We’re infinitely more tolerant than our American neighbours.
  9. Gun sensibility.  Most guns in Canada are handled only by law enforcement, hunters and collectors. The fact that a few bad guys have gunsthem too is a problem we’re working on. Thank heaven we have no “Second Amendment”.
  10. Good neighbours. We’re right next door to the United States who shares most of our values (except gun control and universal Canada ushealthcare). We’re good neighbours and get along well with each other ever since their failed attempt to invade and annex us in 1814 when we burned down The White House and the Capitol building. I’m pretty sure they’re probably not going to mess with our borders again.

Perhaps you have reasons of your own you’d like to add. One thing’s for sure, we definitely won the lottery, eh!

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Don’t get sick or hurt traveling outside of Canada

Boomers are taking out-of-country vacations in unprecedented numbers.

Now that baby boomers are reaching the age of retirement, many are choosing to escape Canada’s crappy winters and migrate to Florida, Arizona and other sunny climates for a few weeks or months each year. We’re taking boat cruises, visiting Europe and doing all the things we didn’t have the time or money for during our working years. Notwithstanding “pre-existing conditions”, we buy our out-of-country health insurance and off we go. Buyer beware. What happens when we’re in a car accident, develop intestinal problems or suffer a stroke or heart attack? That’s when we learn that insurance companies are in the business of making money for themselves, not serving the needs of policy holders. This realization should come as no surprise but it can make for some frustrating and inconvenient experiences. Not to mention the obstacles presented by health care provided in foreign countries.

Illness is one thing, but car accidents are another matter altogether when you’re travelling, In Florida and many other places, it’s still legal to use hand-held cell phones while driving, and dangerous texting drivers are commonplace. Compounding the bad driver issue is the age of so many of the drivers in the sunshine states as well as the preponderance of impaired drivers. I know more than one person who was run over when someone backed out of a parking spot without looking behind. That reinforces the argument that it’s always safer to back into a parking spot rather than backing out where it’s difficult to see obstacles.

Even minor issues can quickly rack up tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs.

The bottom line is out-of-country insurance is a must but be aware of the hazards inherent in insurance coverage. I once went to “Emergency” on Christmas day in Florida to remove the rubber tip from my hearing device that had become lodged deep inside my ear canal. I couldn’t fish it out. A trip to the hospital involved several hours of waiting before being seen by a doctor (after being triaged by a series of admin staffers). The procedure took five seconds using special forceps and because I had failed to notify my insurance company in advance and get their recommendation for a facility to do the procedure, I was out of pocket $1,750.00. Ouch. After that experience, I found the perfect forceps on Amazon for $25.00 and now take of the problem myself when it happens.

Be well, but more importantly, beware.

Friends were rear-ended in a car accident when they went for a coffee one evening in Florida. A trip to the hospital involving six hours of tests and treatment resulted in a total bill of $37,000.00 as well as a truckload of paperwork and legal followup after they returned to Canada. Fortunately their insurance covered it. Another friend had intestinal issues and a couple of quick trips to Emergency for tests and prescriptions cost $18,000.00. He’s worried this will affect his future insurability and premiums. Someone else had heart issues in Greece and was treated in a hospital that provided no towels or hot water no drinking water to take pills, no toilet paper and minimal care. After moving to a private clinic, he was presented with a bill for thousands of dollars when he checked out two days later. The clinic demanded immediate cash or bank transfer in payment. The clinic would absolutely not deal with the Canadian insurance provider and finally agreed to accept a Visa card payment. Then, he faced a fight with his insurance company for reimbursement when he returned home.

The bottom line is beware, be healthy and bee-line it home to Canada if you can. Even paying for an air ambulance trip at thirty or forty thousand dollars could be cheaper and safer than out-of-country medical care. Call your insurance company before seeking treatment. If possible, get your ass home immediately. The Canadian health care system may not be perfect, but it is relatively hassle-free and we don’t have to mortgage the mobile home to receive care like our American neighbours do. In the meantime, drive very defensively in the United States, assuming, under Trump you qualify for entry. But that’s another subject for another time.

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Help! My scarves are choking me.

The inscription on my tombstone will be simple: 

She finally quit complaining about her hair.

She was organized.

As a young girl and even later as a teenager, I never had a messy bedroom. My bed was made every morning. My single bottle of Evening in Paris and two bottles of Cutex nail polish were neatly lined up on my “roxatoned” dresser. My spartan wardrobe was carefully organized on hooks behind my bedroom door (the house was built in the 1880s and had no closets). In the late sixties when I got my first apartment without a roommate, a bachelor unit in an old walk-up building on Vaughan Road in Toronto, I was immensely household. Furnished carefully with whatever I could carry up the street from the S.S. Kresge store on St. Clair Avenue, my belongings were arranged in an orderly and efficient fashion. I’ve always taken pride in being organized. Still do. Some friends would say, a little too organized.

Walking into a store like Solutions or The Container Store makes me weak-kneed with the pleasure. I could spend hours browsing the cutlery trays, shoe bags, garbage containers and cupboard organizers. My heart skips a beat just thinking about it. My bathroom linen closet contains little plastic baskets labelled Hair Products, Makeup, Meds, Dental, and so on. Those bins are further subdivided with labelled Ziplok baggies containing my overflow items such as Skincare, Eye makeup, Blushers and Lipsticks.  My kitchen pantry is arranged by food group (isn’t everyone’s?). You get the picture. While I’m not compulsive; I definitely like things to be orderly.

So, here some of my organizing tricks that you might help you in your everyday life:

Men’s tie racks (from Solutions) make great necklace holders. They’re visible and don’t get tangled.

Open-ended Umbra paper towels racks mounted on the wall are perfect for managing all your bracelets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too many pair of black pants? These little round metal tags (from Staples) on pant hangers tell me whether the black pants (which are hard to distinguish on the hangers) are leggings, dress pants, jeans, knit, etc. and indicate the size, depending on how fat I am on a particular day.                                                      

These Skubb shoe boxes are a deal at IKEA and only $12.99 for a four-pack.

 

But I do need help in one area

Sadly, one thing that has consistently alluded me and escaped my control is management of my scarves. I’ve tried those special hangers with all the loops, a hanging circular laundry dryer with scarfs draped from its tiny clothes pegs, scarves folded over pant racks and wadded up in a drawer. None of these solutions was satisfactory. If anyone has any ideas on how to remove this last menace from my organized life, I’d be grateful. There could be a reward.

This looped hanger system for scarves should work but unfortunately it doesn’t. I have several of these hangers; they get all bunched up and I have to pull them all out of the closet to find what I’m looking for. And don’t even suggest I get rid of some. That’s not negotiable.

Do you have any organizational tricks you’d like to share in the Comments section?

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Maud Lewis respectfully recognized in superb Canadian film

I find it impossible to look at a painting by Maud Lewis and not feel uplifted.

Art is subjective and very personal. Sometimes it leaves us cold; other times it touches us deeply. I’m certainly not an expert but over the years I’ve discovered that the work of certain artists draws me in, makes me feel connected and engaged when I view their work. French Impressionist Augusto Renoir and Quebec artist Marc-Aurèle Fortin both have that effect on me. And, so does Nova Scotia primitive folk artist Maud Lewis. Simply looking at one of her paintings of a spring scene with bursting, colourful flowers, blue skies and puffy white clouds, happy cows grazing in bright green fields bisected by a meandering country road fills me with joy. It’s easy to disparage her work as it resembles the happy, brushwork of a young child. That’s the secret of its enchanting beauty.

Her world was small but her reach expansive.

Like so many artists, Maud Lewis didn’t gain a lot of notoriety and respect until after her death in 1970.  Born in 1903 with multiple birth defects Maud faced challenges right from the beginning, leaving school in the fifth grade. Her protective parents died when she was a young woman and her older brother refused to accept responsibility for her care and support. Destitute at the age of thirty-four, Maud responded to an ad in a local store by 44-year-old bachelor Everett Lewis who was looking for a live-in housekeeper. Maud presented herself at the door of his 12 ft. by 12 ft. cabin and never left. And now there’s a movie about their life called Maudie.

The movie stars Sally Hawkins as Maude and Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett. Before I saw him in the role, I couldn’t imagine handsome Ethan Hawke playing Maud’s contrary, awkward husband, but he was amazing. Sally Hawkins’s portrayal of Maude’s common sense, inner strength and sense of humour was exceptional. Maudie accurately depicts the life of Maud Lewis from early womanhood in Digby, Nova Scotia until her death in 1970. There were credits attributed to several Canadian organizations and it was gratifying to see the woman and her work represented in such a sensitive, respectful movie. There are so few films that the Boomer generation can enjoy (unless you’re into endless sci-fi special effects fantasies) and Maudie nailed it. I loved the movie. The girlfriends who went with me also loved it and if you go see it, I’m sure you will too.

Footnote: A few years ago I visited a Maud Lewis art show of her original work at a small gallery in Yorkville in Toronto. I was totally captivated and would have loved to buy a piece but the most affordable one was $16,000.00. Considering certain pieces now sell for upwards of $100,000+, I should have sold some RRSPs and bought it. Although it might have been a better investment, I probably wouldn’t have been able to part with it. I’ve also visited her tiny cabin which was dismantled and reinstalled in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. If you’re ever there, don’t miss it.

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Living the Golden Girls’ reality

Communal living Golden Girls’-style has its advantages.

As Boomers approach retirement, we’re circling our wagons, in search of a landing pad that is functional, safe, fulfilling and sustainable. Some of us have branched off to follow children and grandchildren only to find they’re too busy with their own lives to have much room for us. Many of us are colonizing with like-minded fellow Boomers who share our interests, value system, taste in music and social activities. We’re moving into retirement bungalow communities or affordable condos with activity centres and handy amenities. These communities are, however, in short supply.

What makes us different from earlier generations is that we’re demanding more creative approaches to retirement accommodation. One of the reasons our parents are so reluctant to move from their suburban split-level is the lack of viable options. The housing market doesn’t offer many in-between choices for that couple of decades between the big family home and the restrictions and finality of a “retirement home”. My friend MaryAnne sent me a link to a recent article in the Toronto Star about a group of Boomer ladies in Port Perry, Ontario who are living *Golden Girls-style. Four retired women pooled their resources, bought a large Victorian home in a lovely community on Lake Scugog northeast of Toronto and had it customized so they could live independently yet cooperatively in a shared home.

Boomers want specific housing to fill that gap between the big suburban family home and the retirement home.

My own circle of Boomer friends has talked endlessly about communal living. Perhaps it’s a throwback to our idealistic hippie days from the sixties but more realistically it’s just plain practicality. Our families are busy with their own lives and we want the support and social interaction offered by our circle of friends while remaining independent. There are so many options in addition to the Port Perry Golden Girls’ model. The one that appeals to us the most is the “colony”—where we each have our own separate unit but are part of a cluster of similar units forming a pod of lifestyle-sharing retired Boomers. It could be linked or detached one-storey homes. Florida is brimming with this type of accommodation. It could be a multi-unit, two or three-storey condo-style building comprising six or eight units with two units per floor sharing a common elevator/stairwell corridor. That configuration would provide windows for light and ventilation on three sides of each unit.

Retirement accommodation doesn’t have to be expensive . . . but we do have certain expectations.

Land prices are becoming prohibitively too expensive to build cost-effective retirement communities in large cities like Toronto and Vancouver but smaller urban centres could greatly enrich their tax base by marketing to us. Smaller towns and cities should encourage developers to build what we’re looking for. We want access to health care, shopping, theatre, libraries and sports facilities. The baby boomer generation is a huge demographic. It’s a mystery to me why developers, communities and investors aren’t capitalizing on this opportunity by providing what we’re looking for. Build it and we will come. Just call me.

For more on this issue, click on:

Build it and Boomers will come

It pays to listen to Boomers

Can we afford to go on living?

Where will you be in twenty years?

Grandparenting Boomer-style

*Meet a new generation of golden girls

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Is there a reward for Crime and Punishment?

There should be some kind of award for accomplishing items on your bucket list. Surely we’re entitled to a pair of new shoes for losing twenty pounds or treating ourselves to a spa day for running a marathon. That’s exactly how I’m feeling after having just finished reading Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky. Believe it or nor, reading that book was on my bucket list and I did it. Many of us have lists that includes such pleasures as visiting Paris in the springtime, writing a best-selling novel or hitting a hole-in-one. Perhaps our ambitions are as mundane as cleaning out the junk in the basement or finally paying off our Visa bill. That surely deserves a dinner out, paid for in cash of course. Not everything on our bucket list is necessarily pleasurable but it should be rewarding. For me, reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was one of those things.

The obvious question is why would I subject myself to such brutality? It’s simple. Like someone running a marathon or climbing a mountain, it was there and demanded to be done. As an inveterate reader I felt challenged to add more classic Russian literature to my repertoire. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment kept dangling across my field of vision as a goal to be achieved. To complete my troika of classic Russian authors (having also read Tolstoy) I’m now reading Anton Chekov”s Sakhalin Island, but I’ll tell you more about that in a future posting.

I’m certainly not an academic and my take on Crime and Punishment is purely that of an amateur, but overall, I rather enjoyed it. I loved occupying the minds and lifestyles of people who lived in St. Petersburg one hundred and fifty years ago. The characters’ names in Russian literature are always challenging to follow as their names take many forms and are constantly switched about. For instance, the main character’s name has several variations: Raskolnikov, Rodion, Rodka, Rody, Romanovich, (not unlike our treatment of David as Dave, Davey or David) and all the characters names have similar variations which can be confusing.

Raskolnikov is a poor, starving university dropout who, during a period of melancholy and illness, murders a local money-lender and her half-sister during a robbery. The plot takes second place to the psychological study of Raskolnikov’s motives and rationale for committing the crime. The dilemma is relevant and worth considering. Using Napoleon as his moral compass, Raskolnikov attempts to rationalize murder as an acceptable action when committed for the higher good. If leaders of countries can justify war and killing to conquer foreign lands and defeat so-called enemies, how could a simple student be wrong in murdering an evil loan shark, despised by everyone? This premise is eerily relevant in view of the current political situation in our world today. When is killing justifiable and when is it murder? Is it ever justifiable?

Sometime we've just plain earned it.

Sometimes we’ve just plain earned it.

It was a slow and tedious but worthwhile read. The thing I enjoyed most about the book was what I also enjoyed about Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The minute detail about daily life in Russia transported me to a time and place I will never experience. Graphic descriptions of apartments, rooming houses, the clothing worn by ordinary Russians, conversations in period dialogue that reflect the thoughts, philosophy, sense of humour and worries of the characters was rich and evocative. Now that I have Crime and Punishment under my belt, I’m seriously contemplating tackling Ulysses by James Joyce, but I’m in no hurry. In the meantime I think at the very least I’ve earned a DQ Blizzard or something equally decadent. Don’t you agree?

Click here to order Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Amazon.

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Laundry rooms . . . premium real estate located in the wrong neighbourhood

Lace up. It's laundry day.

Lace up. It’s laundry day.

Imagine a woodworking shop with the wood set up on a work bench in the garage or basement and the tools located in another room at the opposite end of the house. Or, what if your lawnmower and snowblower were stored in a shed a couple of blocks from your home requiring you to trek a quarter of a mile every time the grass needed cutting or the snow needed shoveling. That’s a reasonable comparison to what home buyers are forced to accept every time they move into a house or condo with the laundry room in the basement or far away from where their function is required.

Think about it. Where is most of your laundry generated? In the bedroom and master bathroom. Sheets and towels that require regular laundering are heavy and awkward to haul from one end of the house to the other in search of the washer and dryer, then back again. When you remove your clothing each day you drop it into a laundry hamper located in your bedroom, closet or bathroom. Why oh why do designers of residential spaces still insist on locating laundry facilities so far away from where they are really needed. That’s a major beef I have with the annual Princess Margaret Lottery homes. Wonderful designers have produced fairy-tale spacious laundry facilities that include craft areas, acres of built-in storage, flat-screen televisions and room for setting up an ironing board in beautifully designed spaces that are always located in the basement, miles from where the actual laundry is generated.

In my dreams .. . .

In my dreams .. . .

Here’s a brilliant suggestion. Actually I have a few suggestions for designers of residential space. Build it and we will come.

  1. Laundry facilities should always be adjacent to master bedroom or bathroom. Minimal steps to deposit laundry, remove from washer and dryer, fold, and return to closet or drawers.
  2. Include hanging racks for air-drying frillies and other delicates.
  3. Linen cupboards should be incorporated into every master bedroom or bathroom. Same reasons as above. And don’t try placing a few wired shelves at the end of an already undersized closet and call this a linen closet.
  4. Built-in cupboard space for cleaning products should be located with the washer and dryer in the laundry area along with a countertop for folding. We can always set up the ironing board in the master bedroom near the walk-in closet (another overlooked design must!!) and watch TV while ironing.
  5. A laundry sink would be lovely for hand washing or soaking large items as well bathing family pets but it’s not essential if space is limited.
Size is not the problem. It's all about location, location, location.

Size is not the problem. This works beautifully. It’s all about location, location, location.

A floor plan for a condo comprising nearly four thousand square feet of high-end living space was featured in a recent edition of The New York Times. Starting at $2.5 million++, the unit had a dinky little laundry cupboard with a stacking washer/dryer located near the fourth bedroom, at the opposite end of the apartment from the master suite. Either the maid doesn’t mind trekking that far or they send their laundry out because laundry is obviously not designed to be part of the lifestyle in that household. Toronto condos advertised in our local papers are equally guilty. And seniors’ apartments are even worse which is an issue that should concern downsizing baby boomers. I recently reviewed the brochure for new seniors’ apartments that had no front closet for coats and boots, no linen closet and no room for a kitchen/dining table at all. Where are we supposed to sit to read our newspaper and drink our morning coffee or tea?

Designers continue to ignore the practicalities of doing laundry so the only solution I can suggest is that anyone who does not do his/her own laundry should never be allowed to design residential living space. It’s not the design of the laundry rooms themselves I object to but the location, which is a total washout. If any progressive developers or their wives are reading this, heed my five suggestions above. Or me and my baby boomer friends will never buy your residential space until you start to design for the practicalities of daily life. Wake up and smell the coffee, or we’re going to relocate your three-car garage three blocks away from your fancy house. See how you like that!

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