BOOMERBROADcast

The voice of baby boomers, the silenced majority. Rants and reflections on lifestyle, fashion, current events, books and more . . .


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Old Victorian house is major character in Barbara Kingsolver novel

When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible (which I absolutely loved) several years ago, it was the first time I’d heard of the author and immediately became a fan. Her newest book, Unsheltered is not quite as engrossing but it’s still a wonderful read. It’s the story of life’s plan not working out quite the way the characters hoped it would but coping and adapting along the way. Normal life.

Willa Knox is a middle-aged science writer married to a university professor who never quite makes the tenure track. Willa forgoes her own job security and the family moves multiple times over the course of their marriage chasing her husband’s elusive job security. The price they pay is financial insecurity bordering on destitution and discontented adult children who in no way turn out the way their parents hoped or anticipated. Things reach a critical point when they find themselves in middle age returning to live in her late mother’s dilapidated Victorian home in Vineland, New Jersey, caring for her husband’s elderly, irascible father, Nick, who has multiple chronic illnesses associated with old age and poor lifestyle choices.

Their son Zeke seems to have landed on his feet, but not for long. He lives in Boston and has a baby son with his partner who is a successful lawyer. The Knox’s daughter has been living a hippie lifestyle in Cuba for an extended period of time and is mostly incommunicado. Then, Zeke’s partner commits suicide leaving him unprepared and unwilling to be a father to his infant son. As any mother would, Willa steps in to take care of the baby just as their daughter returns from her mysterious sabbatical in Cuba. The entire extended family ends up living together in a 150-year-old house that is literally falling down around them.

Old Victorian homes appear romantic but generally come with a history of unseen problems.

In an attempt to access financial support for repairing the house, Willa befriends a local historian and together they research the home’s history in an effort to justify the historical designation application required to finance major repairs. She learns the original owners one hundred and fifty years earlier were similarly challenged the way Willa and her family are. Personal conflicts, precarious job security, influential neighbours and financial insecurity are just some of their shared dilemmas. The two stories run parallel in alternate chapters.

Reading this book also reminded me of how lucky I am to be Canadian with universal health care. A major source of stress and conflict in this story stems from the lack of available, accessible universal health care in the United States. The difficulties encountered by working Americans in obtaining everyday health care for elderly parents is an ongoing tragedy. Despite the fact the family has a health insurance, their financial problems are exacerbated by the chronic health problems of Willa’s father-in-law, a rabid Republican who is oblivious to the Herculean efforts expended by his daughter-in-law to obtain basic health care for him. It’s not an issue for Canadians and that reality hit home as I read of the family’s struggles.

The house itself is almost a metaphor for life and its struggles. It has a beginning, a middle and an end with many complications in between. We can patch the roof, paint the porch and replace the electricity but ultimately no amount of intervention will forestall the inevitable when the basic structure is crumbling. But the death of a house doesn’t mean the end of life itself. As Mary Treat, a nineteenth century neighbour once pointed out, “Without a roof, you’re open to the sky and all its glory”. Unsheltered is written with sensitivity, intelligence and insight. Kingsolver’s observations through her characters are at times funny and always engaging. I’d rate it 8 out of 10.

To order Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver from Amazon click here.

To order The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver from Amazon click here.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.


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Dear Santa: It’s me again . . . Lynda

I rather liked my letter to Santa last year, so I’ve decided to repost it in case he didn’t get it in time to fulfill my wishes:

Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas this year is . . .

Enough already!

For the most part I’ve been a very good girl this year, more nice than naughty and I’ve generally tried to be a better person throughout the year. By Santa standards that should qualify me for plenty of loot under the Christmas tree but the truth is I don’t want or need a single thing. I’m incredibly lucky and the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. This was not always the case. In fact, it’s the bumps in the road of life that make us truly appreciate the good times. Boomers are now reaching the age where we’re losing friends, partners and family members at an increasing rate. Where we once spent a lot of time and money attending bridal showers, lavish weddings and baby showers, we now attend too many ‘celebrations of life’. Which is why I’m celebrating the life I have now, every single day.

Over the years, holiday arrangements with family and friends gradually evolved toward less gift-giving and more sharing of good times. I’ve even heard about parents withholding some Christmas and birthday gifts from the grandchildren because they already have too much and don’t appreciate it. We still remember the younger grandchildren in our family with gifts from Santa but that’s only until they’re launched. Everyone has more than enough in material goods and we no longer need to populate landfill with our accumulated and discarded frivolous consumption.

Not having to troll the crowded, over-heated stores and malls for questionable gifts that will only end up at a charity shop has been incredibly freeing. No more Secret Santa exercises and no more heart attacks and bouts of depression when we get our January Visa statement. And, how much does one really need when we have each other? That’s more than enough by anyone’s standards.

So, to wrap up, dear Santa, here’s my wish list for this year:

  • Love, caring and an end to the violence for all victims of abuse.
  • A warm, safe bed and home for the homeless.
  • Free medical care for the sick and ailing.
  • Plenty of healthy food for the hungry.
  • Hope for the hopeless.
  • Love and a safe environment for all the world’s children.
  • Peace on earth . . .

. . . and to all a good night.

Love, Lynda


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Step right up and behold the wonders of the season

I think I can; I think I can, but I may need help to put on the brakes.

When I walk into a department store at this time of year I feel like a mouse standing in front of a trap loaded with lovely fresh Gruyère, wagging my cute little tail with a sense of anticipation and a teensy bit of caution. My nose and my credit card are twitching, my ears are perked up taking in the cuddly Christmas music and my belly is calling out for gratification. I want all the cheese and I want it now. The cosmetics department is strategically positioned at the entrance to every store because that’s how their marketing gurus bait us as soon as we walk in the door. It’s particularly hazardous during the holiday season because everything is festooned with sparkles, sequins, tulle and ribbon unlike any other time of year. And what girl can resist bling? Visions of sugar plums dance before our innocent, unadorned eyes.

My Achilles heel.

Speaking of eyes, have you tried the latest bedazzled glittery palette of eye shadows? Electric turquoise, sparkly bronze, shimmery green, deep sea iridescent blue; they’re all on display and irresistibly packaged with a bonus highlighting apricot blusher in a clever little compact resembling an evening clutch. With a little leopard motif. And if I spend just $65.00, I can score a travel case loaded with more than $400.00 worth of products for a mere $85.00 extra. By my calculations, that’s a savings of $315.00? How can I resist? The fact that the travel case and most of its contents are of no use to me is irrelevant. I’m smitten. Hooked. Sucked in. But not quite.

Then, there’s perfume. The bottles enchant me; the fragrances rarely do, which is why the fragrance companies hire top designers to create new, glamorous decanters that gullible people like me can’t resist. And at this time of year, they’ll toss in a cute purse-sized atomizer and a lovely bottle of matching body lotion exquisitely packaged in a gilded gift box with pink and gold grosgrain ribbon. My heart is screaming “Load up” while my brain says, “Whoahh girl! You already have #$%^ bottles of perfume and you’re running out of spaces to put them.”

‘Tis the season to stay home and cocoon.

Due to my advanced age, I’ve been down this road before. Over the years I’ve learned to resist the cosmetics sirens calling my name. I even have photographic evidence to remind me of my previous falls from sanity. The only solution I’ve found to avoid these seasonal promotions is to avoid department stores altogether until mid-January. I should be able to accomplish this because in our world of over-abundance and rampant consumerism, my family and friends have reached a “No gifts” agreement which suits us just fine. I may not be sporting the latest fluorescent yellow eye shadow or be wearing a debt-inducing glamorous new sparkly outfit this season, but that’s OK. I just wish January would hurry up and get here before I make a grab for the cheese, which will just leave me feeling constipated and hating myself. That would not be in the spirit of the season at all.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.


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Princess Margaret comes alive once again in detailed tell-all

If you’re someone who enjoys reading salacious gossip about royalty, then you’ll love Ninety-nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret written by British author and journalist Craig Brown. To be honest, when I downloaded the book, I thought it was a picture book—a photographic retrospective of the life of the Queen’s younger sister. The title was a bit misleading. As it turns out, there were relatively few pictures and hundreds of pages of stories, observations, first-hand accounts and general information about Princess Margaret, her lifestyle, her friends, enemies and her vices. And most of it was not flattering, but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have the most agreeable or sympathetic personality.

Canadian boomers growing up in the fifties and sixties were generally raised to revere the royal family, including the vivacious and glamorous Princess Margaret. In the olden days we stood up in class, raised our right hands to shoulder height and pledged allegiance to The Queen every morning at the start of classes. It’s tempting to employ amateur psychology to explain why Princess Margaret, the one-time first runner-up to the British throne was the way she was but it only invites the old nature versus nurture argument. Queen Elizabeth was the personification of duty and responsibility while Margaret was the polar opposite. She was temperamental, spoiled and disdainful of most of her royal duties. She embraced the bohemian lifestyle while insisting upon the rights and privileges of being a princess. Even her closest friends and lovers were required to call her “Ma’am” and defer to her royal status.

She chose position and money over Peter Townsend.

After I realized the book was a collection of tittle-tattle, I felt a bit icky about reading it but not so much that I could put it down. It was just too juicy. The good bits began with her relationship with former Group Captain Peter Townsend, equerry to her father, King George VI. Eighteen years her senior, already married with two children and standing more that a foot taller than the diminutive 5 ft. princess, their relationship caused quite a kerfuffle in the royal household. Hoping time apart would cool their ardour, the Queen and her government banished Townsend to a diplomatic desk job in Belgium where he promptly fell in love with and remarried someone even younger than Margaret. That was just the beginning of a lifetime of “unlucky in love” experiences she endured. Toward the end of the book there’s even a chronology of her many lovers over her lifetime including a few surprises like former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner (yikes!), Dusty Springfield (really?) and Mick Jagger (but then, me and the readers of Boomerbroadcast are probably the only people on the planet who haven’t slept with Mick Jagger.).

The book’s content is based on extensive research by the author. In addition to reading dozens of books, interviewing countless people who knew the princess and including details of his own experiences with her, the author gives the reader a pretty comprehensive overview of her life. We learn about her insistence on protocol while often displaying bad manners herself. Her bitchiness about performing the boring ribbon cuttings, official openings and attending formal dinners that are the life of royalty was no secret among those who move in such circles.

Her marriage did not have a fairy tale ending.

There’s a lot of speculation about the why’s of her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones but it’s ultimate failure and the disastrous fallout are well known. After her divorce, things went from bad to worse. She kept company with an increasingly shady assortment of characters. As she aged and lost her looks and figure, her conduct became easy prey for the media. Her questionable behavior only exacerbated the negative perceptions. Margaret’s love affair with much younger and wannabe rock star Roddy Llewellyn fed the fire.

Ninety-nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a somewhat tragic story. On one hand, it’s sad to see someone with so many advantages (position, a title, beauty, talent, money) lead such an unhappy life but on the other hand she was the architect of her own destiny. She could have married Peter Townsend after the one-year waiting period but chose money and position instead. Everyone experiences problems and unhappiness at some time in their lives. It’s what we do with these negative experiences that frames who we are and how we will be remembered. Princess Diana was far from perfect and had her share of unhappiness but she leveraged the same advantages Princess Margaret had into charitable work and being a good will ambassador. I have to admit I couldn’t put the book down—even reading every single one of the dozens of pages of footnotes. It’s gossipy and voyeuristic but I’d rate it 8 out of 10. Have fun dahlings.

To order Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown from Amazon, click here.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.


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What’s the real price of economic progress?

It’s all so complicated . . . and expensive.

When I reviewed my recent ‘bundled’ telecom bill (for telephone, internet and Fibe TV) this week, the total nearly knocked me on my old lady ass. It was about the same as the mortgage payments on our first house in the seventies. How did this happen? I’ve tried unsuccessfully to cancel some channels only to reinstate them again because my honey needs three thousand sports and movie channels, the car channel and every news channel from the Outer Hebrides to Inner Mongolia. I’m no better with my HGTV, HBO, various History channels and BBC that I’m convinced I couldn’t live without.

That got me thinking about all the services that baby boomers did not grow up with that we cannot imagine surviving without today. Tally up what these luxuries add to our monthly budget expenditures and we get an understanding of why we always feel so broke. Here’s a sampling:

Once upon a time we were thrilled to be able to get Roy Rogers on Saturday mornings and Ed Sullivan on Sunday night.

  • I remember when a basic phone line cost $15.00 a month, plus long distance charges, which we were very careful to minimize by calling only on weekends and for short periods of time. We received three television stations through an antenna on the roof. Compare that with $350.00 a month today for hundreds of stations but we still have trouble finding something we like.
  • Speaking of phones, tally up what your family’s cell phones cost every month. Another $300.00? Or more? More importantly, we actually survived without cell phones not that long ago..
  • Mani-pedi’s are de rigueur for most women today to the tune of about $50.00 a month. Many of our mothers never even had a professional mani-pedi and back in the sixties and seventies we always did them ourselves. We also often coloured and cut our own hair to save money.
  • Modern washers and dryers are now capable of doing everything but our income taxes. Growing up, we reused wash water for several loads and hung clothes outside to dry. A clothes dryer alone is a huge energy-eater to the tune of another $60.00 per month and that’s if we schedule laundry for the middle of the night or weekends when hydro is cheapest.
  • Growing up in the 50s and 60s, families were privileged to own a car. Now, vehicles for every member of the family are lined up in driveways like a used car lot. Factor in the monthly payments for the vehicle, gas, maintenance and insurance and we’re looking at an additional $1,000.00 per month per car and many families have at least two cars.
  • Home security anyone? We never even locked our doors half the time when we were growing up and our family lived across the road from a high school. $50.00 per month?

Practice doesn’t always align with the plan.

These few items alone total about $2,000.00 per month ($24,000.00 per year in after tax income) and I haven’t even touched on our astronomical hydro bills, bank fees and interest charges on credit cards for merchandise we’ve ordered on line but really didn’t need and probably threw out a few weeks later. Then, there’s the cost of keeping up with the latest fashions, maintenance costs related to skin care, makeup and gym memberships. Nor have I discussed restaurant meals (which were rare for our parents’ generation), entertainment, overseas vacations or expensive hobbies like golf or skiing.

As teenagers, when our pocket money ran out, we were broke until next allowance day or payday at the drive-in burger joint where we worked on weekends. Now, parents shell out continually and without regard for limits. Seeing high school students with expensive designer purses, jeans or sneakers, leather jackets and even their own cars is mind-boggling for those who lived through the Depression.

It’s natural (or at least it used to be) that subsequent generations do better than those who went before. But there’s still a lot of fat that can be trimmed from our monthly budgets that would go a long way to ensuring a financially secure retirement. Just a few decades ago, the majority of young people did not go to university. That was a huge cost-saving but now a university education is considered essential. When I look at the shortages in skilled trades, service jobs and certain occupations, I question the validity of this but that’s another topic for another day.

Being able to afford a house requires discipline. There’s a lot of room for trimming the fat from monthly budgets to build up that down-payment. And your first home doesn’t have to include granite countertops and be located close to work. Certain accommodations and sacrifices must be made to get a foot in the market. On one hand I sympathize with the challenges faced by young people trying to get into the market, while at the same time I sometimes think their expectations are too high. It wasn’t easy for baby boomers when we bought our first place (especially when you consider that mortgage rates were upwards of 20 percent in the 70s), and just as hard for our parents. My parents sold their used car and went without a vehicle for a couple of years to help scrape together the down payment on their first house, and they already had two kids.

We’ve all grown fat and lazy on the improved standard of living for average North Americans. So many goods and services that were considered luxuries by our parents are now part of our everyday lexicon. In the midst of all this affluence, boomers are also trying to downsize. We’re hauling truckloads of valuable furniture, clothing and other possessions to charity stores and consignment shops. Have we become too smart too late? I’ve started turning off lights to save power, refraining from buying more clothing and shoes I don’t need and generally thinking twice instead of laying down that credit card for an impulse purchase.

It’s always been my belief that earned money is more meaningful than handouts. Spoiled children grow up to be entitled adults. There’s something surreal about swiping our so-called Smart phones or credit cards that has inured us to the real value of earned money. It’s like we’re playing with Monopoly money and sometimes we forget how hard the hard stuff is to come by. A quick stop at Starbucks could cost us the equivalent of fifteen minutes working in our employers’ cubicle. As the gap between the rich and poor widens, we’re going to have to become more aware of our spending habits and face the reality that we’re jeopardizing our future security. We could learn a lot by remembering how our parents (who lived through the Great Depression) handled money. Is the cashless society a good thing or a scam and a deceit that will be our ultimate downfall?

Pass the wine. I need to forget.

Our oceans are full of plastic waste; the polar ice cap is melting; certain species of wildlife are disappearing; thousands of hectares are being stripped of valuable trees and our natural resources won’t last forever. It sounds like a depressing prospect but it’s not too late to change our ways. I don’t envy the Gen Xer’s, Y’s and millennials who’ll be left to clean up the mess. I certainly don’t advocate abandoning technology but maybe there’s some justice in the standard of living pendulum swinging the other way for a few years. Let’s hope this old earth survives long enough to rejuvenate itself. Our standard of living may be better than it was for our parents but is life really better? What started with me questioning my telecom bill now has me reevaluating my entire life. Boy, do I need a glass of wine. Time to chill out.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.