BOOMERBROADcast

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


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I gobbled up The Edible Woman

I still have my original paperback copy.

It was probably the popularity of the television series The Handmaid’s Tale based on the book written by Margaret Atwood that reignited my interest in her writing. I must confess though that I did not like the book when I read it thirty years ago. Just too weird for my taste, but I absolutely loved the television series and can’t wait for season two. Perhaps I’ve evolved and I finally get it. In discussing the series with a friend who also disliked the book, I suggested she read The Edible Woman, a wonderful book written by Atwood in the late 1960s. So, the other day I unearthed my old, yellowed paperback copy of The Edible Woman to lend her. Although I’ve already read it two or three times since it was first published in 1969, I couldn’t resist the urge to take a quick peak inside. Then I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a time capsule of life in Toronto when there were still typewriters on our desks at work, girdles in our dresser drawers and hi-fi’s in our apartments. The sixties vernacular came crashing back through familiar-sounding descriptions of the clothing, social attitudes and physical surroundings. I was reminded of the difference in our moral standards. Back then gays were still referred to as queer, unmarried couples could not share a hotel room and young women often quit work when they married.

Parts I and III of the book are written in the first person, narrated by Marian, a recent university graduate. The reason Part II is written in second person becomes evident at the end of the book. She works for Seymour Surveys finessing the language in market research questionnaires for such products as beer, sanitary pads and canned rice pudding. Marian has an uninspired relationship with an articling law student named Peter whom she plans to marry and shares a flat with Ainsley who reminded me of the selfish roommate Meredith in Georgy Girl, played by Charlotte Rampling. Various other characters move through her daily life causing her to question herself and her choices. She has a secret friend Duncan who has a thing for laundromats and the life of her married friend Clara represents everything abhorrent to her. Marian’s life as a twenty-something will sound so familiar to those of us who were never quite totally happy or unhappy at that stage in our lives. There’s an overlying veil of dissatisfaction reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Toronto, as it looked when Marian worked downtown for Seymour Surveys.

Toronto in the late sixties looked very different from today with about one-third the current population and Atwood’s detailed descriptions took me back more than fifty years. She doesn’t specify street names or neighbourhoods and I had fun figuring out where things took place from my memories of Toronto at that time. I could visualize the flat shared by Marian and Ainsley being located in the Annex district just northwest of The University of Toronto. I once shared a flat in the Roncesvalles area with two other girls, that was amazingly similar to theirs. There was no privacy door between our flat and the Polish landlady who lived with her daughters on the main floor so our activities were under her constant scrutiny. Banging her broom handle on her kitchen ceiling to warn us to keep the noise down and being subjected to her constant scrutiny was a part of daily life. Marian’s friend Len also had an apartment that sounded identical to one I once occupied on Vaughan Road.

Nostalgia abounds. When Marion describes her boyfriend Peter’s new apartment in a huge new development complex south of Bloor Street I could picture it in St. James Town. Like Peter, a friend of mine moved in while the building was still was under construction and the elevators didn’t work. Back then it was still considered a hip address comparable to today’s Liberty District south of King Street. The sixties clothing worn by Marian and Ainsley is so familiar, right down to the circular virgin pin worn on the dress of one of her co-workers. Atwood’s characters meet for a drink one evening in a lounge atop the Park Plaza Hotel at Yonge and Bloor Streets, a scene I could picture so vividly having visited the same spot in 1967 with a date and stood on the same terrace looking south toward Queen’s Park.

Yorkville Village in the sixties before it was gentrified.

Before the acceptance of such taken-for-granted rights as gender equality, young women were expected to marry before having children and there was still a degree of reverence for ‘saving yourself’ until marriage. We wrote letters home; we took our bag of dirty laundry on the bus to the laundromat when we ran out of clean clothes and we had to be twenty-one to drink legally. Our spartan apartments were furnished with junk and hand-me-downs. We were subject to the tyranny of landlords and we had jobs not careers.

The message or moral of the story (which you will have to read the book to understand) will ring true for so many women who came into womanhood in the heady days of the sixties. In fact I blogged about the issue for Valentines Day three years ago. This early book by Margaret Atwood turned me into a fan of her writing. If you’re a boomer and feel like burying yourself in a delicious blanket of nostalgia, read or re-read The Edible Woman, still one of my favourites. The message is universal and something today’s millenials can learn from. I had so much fun time-traveling back to life in downtown Toronto during the late sixties. We’ve come a long way baby.

Click here to order The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood from Amazon.com

Click here to read I love you but I love me too

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I couldn’t have said it better

I just came across a shared article on Facebook’s Style Your Way to Success Over 50 written by Rebecca Huval in January 2017 entitled We’ve Forgotten How to Dress Like Adults which expresses the sentiments of baby boomer women and our relationship with fashion better than I ever could. I loved it and I think you will to. Here’s the link:

https://www.racked.com/2017/1/18/14112366/dressing-like-an-adult-sophistication

What do you think? Do you agree with Rebecca?

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I want to see it in print. Is anyone listening?

We’re rooting for you if you’d only listen to us.

As someone who plans to be a magazine editor in my next life and who is also an inveterate magazine junkie (18 subscriptions per month, at last count) I’m seriously concerned about the demise of print publishing. My morning newspaper is getting thinner and thinner. Chatelaine has cut back to bi-monthly and Macleans Magazine is now publishing monthly instead of weekly. I’ve lost my beloved MORE magazine which recognized and targeted our demographic, while Canadian Business, Flare and LouLou have stopped publishing altogether.

So, when I saw a familiar Canadian name associated with America’s mega publisher Hearst Communications Inc., I experienced a flutter of hope. After serving as editor of Good Housekeeping, former Chatelaine editor-in-chief Jane Francisco has been appointed editorial director of Hearst’s lifestyle group which includes Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Women’s Day. Former editor-in-chief of MORE Jane Seymour is launching an on-line publication called CoveyClub which I’ll be following for sure. While I do subscribe to a couple of on-line magazines including one from the U.K. (which I can get faster and cheaper on-line), I prefer to read newspapers and magazines in hard copy so I can rip articles or pictures out and put them in my inspiration files. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the deep pleasure that comes with sitting down with a newly arrived mag and a cup of tea.

I’m just one of thousands of boomer women who subscribe to excellent blogs and websites like susanafter60 to get our fashion inspiration.

Why the focus on millenials?

My major concern and one that traverses all business is the focus on millenials. What about boomers? We have more money than millenials and we’re a bigger demographic. I can see I’m going to have to BFF Jane Francisco and set her straight about a few things. Have they even once considered that the decline in subscriptions might have something to do with their target market and the content offered? Baby boomers are constantly bemoaning the lack of attention in the media given to fashion, wellness, relationship and other issues of interest to us. Not everyone who reads is having babies, taking mat leave, buying their first home or trying to get their post-baby bodies back in shape. American retailer Chico’s gets it and so does Eileen Fisher who targets boomers. However, Eileen Fisher’s prices are out of range for many and her casual designs are not everyone’s taste. Imagine the potential for business and retailers if they recognized and capitalized on our enormous buying power. Conversely, being a baby boomer does not mean I’m a natural market for denture adhesives, incontinence products, frumpy fashion or questionable pharmaceuticals.

I’m no financial expert nor do I have any knowledge of the business side of the publishing industry but I am a big fan and a customer with a strong interest in its future. While the bean counters are busy juggling overheads and measuring the pros and cons of shared revenue streams, have they ever considered asking us, the consumer what we want to spend our money on? Print advertising sales are down and I can’t help but wonder if the advertisers too are out of touch with what we want and can relate to. Very few of us are in the market for four thousand dollar handbags, expensive stiletto heels or kicky fashions designed for genetically mutant teens. Boomers want kicky fashion too but we need advertising we can relate to. Have print publications outlived their magic formula? Where’s the imagination and creativity? Where’s the reciprocal communication with readers?

Publishers. Need help? I’m at your service.

While Canadian publications do not benefit from the economies of scale enjoyed in the United States which has ten times the population, there’s a huge discrepancy in pricing with Canadian subscriptions often costing four times what U.S. subscribers pay. In order to boost sales, American magazines frequently offer subscriptions for twelve dollars a year and even special promotions for five dollars a year can be found. Is this a bad time to bring up free trade? There must be a more workable solution than gradual annihilation. I’ve been waving this banner for years and have been ignored for years. Jane Francisco? Karine Ewart? Moses Znaimer, Mr. Hearst? Any other publishers and editors out there? Call me or email me. We want you to succeed and I’m here for you. Is anyone listening?

Here are links to blogs and websites (click on the link or “like” on Facebook) that baby boomer women can relate to (some are better than others, but judge for yourself):

susanafter60.com

notdeadyetstyle.com

styleyourwaytosuccessover50.com

styleatacertainage.com

stillsexyafter60.com

babyboomermaturewomenclothing.com

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Sharing my secrets to buying a new problem-free laptop

Like buying a car, I don’t need to know what’s under the hood as long as it gets me where I want to go as quickly as possible and preferably without shifting gears. A cup holder would have been be nice.

For many of us non-techies, buying new electronics such as cell phones, telecom services or computers is an experience right up there with sticking needles in your eyeballs. As I detailed in a recent blog “Dear Mr. Gates”, (click here to read), it’s a process characterized by dread, stress, sleepless nights, and hours of calls to a third-world call centre where English is spoken only as second or third language, if at all.  Then, there’s the outlay of hundreds or thousands of your hard-earned dollars, not to mention all the bad swears involved. Sadly, the built-in obsolescence inherent in our electronic devices means we are forced to endure this process for some piece of electronic equipment more often than we would prefer.

I packed all this excitement into a double-header recently with the purchase of a new laptop and the conversion from satellite television to Fibe TV —in the same week. I’d been putting off buying a new laptop for more than a year. My old one was taking so long to process functions I could do the laundry and re-shingle the roof waiting for my e-mails to open. Most of my day was consumed by re-booting and waiting.

I purchased every support option available, which means now I probably won’t need it.

My nervous dread turned to relief and amazement when I actually made a successful conversion to a new laptop. That miracle certainly deserves some post-mortem reflection and good-hearted sharing of information. If it worked for me, it might work for you.

  1. Purchase from a reputable retail outlet that will probably still be in business by the time you get home. I selected the Microsoft store in Square One Shopping Mall in Mississauga because, thanks to our one-way e-mail-based failed love affair, Bill Gates and I are tight. And I figured Microsoft would be committed to a fairly rigid lease with the landlord at the mall ensuring I know where they live should things go sideways.
  2. Try to pick a fairly new employee. They’re more likely to still be keen and not totally burned out by customers humping their giant printers into the store because they can’t make them work with their new computer.
  3. Bribery. When I noticed the sales rep was also left-handed (like me), I gave him my Pentel Energel liquid gel ink pen, specially designed for lefties, from my personal stash. How could he forget such a generous gesture. Anything to grease the wheel should not be overlooked in ensuring he never forgets you and will treat you royally. Don’t try humbugs, though. That’s just sad.
  4. At the risk of sounding sexist, I would ordinarily have preferred a female sales rep assuming she would be more nurturing and empathetic. However, young male sales reps can be more easily manipulated when faced with a gush of old-lady tears, which I was totally prepared to employ if needed.
  5. On the subject of old ladies, don’t be afraid to play the old lady card. When you feign complete ignorance and incompetence the sales reps can be very generous with their time and patience. I find it helps if you speak in a soft, shaky voice too.  And make them speak in language you understand, not technical Klingon.
  6. If Item 5 fails, you can resort to mean old crone. That’s what I did. I made the poor guy read my recent blog posting about my frustrations with electronics (again, click here to read Dear Mr. Gates). Then, I threatened him with my enduring presence at his store if my new computer didn’t work exactly like it should the first time I turned it on. I’m not proud of it, but I think I scared the bejeesuz out of the poor guy. That was probably the clincher that ensured all my old data would be migrated seamlessly to my new laptop. Mission accomplished.

Hallelujah. It works!

It could have been any one or a combination of all the above strategies that sealed my successful transition to a new laptop. I can confidently and honestly tell you that my new laptop works like a charm, just like my old one should have. When my tech-savvy friend Mike asked what I got, I replied “It’s silver”. That’s how much I know about computers. It is in fact an HP Envy 365 Intel Core 17, 7th Gen (whatever all that means) and cost more than three times what I paid for my old Toshiba.  And I purchased every support, replacement and tech assistance option available. I only hope it lasts three times as long which should take this old lady until the end of her time, which I would consider a pretty good investment. If only life were that simple.

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A woman’s view of World War II from behind German lines

Whenever I finish a good book I’m often left feeling somewhat bereft. After being emotionally involved in the lives of the characters over a few days or whatever time it takes to read the book, it’s hard to just “close the book”. Even though The Women in the Castle, a New York Times best seller by Jessica Shattuck had a good ending, I still hated to finish. The fictional story about the lives of three disparate German women, Marianne, Benita and Ania is a look at World War II from the other side and in particular, a female perspective.

The topic has been covered in thousands of books but this one focuses on the wives of three women whose husbands were part of the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. The primary character, Marianne is married to a member of the German aristocracy who is the inheritor of a centuries-old castle that becomes an integral part of the plot. Polish Ania has a mysterious background that isn’t revealed until near the end of the story but that’s part of what keeps us reading. Benita is married to a childhood friend of Marianne’s and appears to be the only character that seems out of her depth. I’m not sure why Shattuck characterized her the way she did as an intellectually challenged misfit amongst strong anti-Nazis except perhaps simply for variety.

I’m always frustrated by books that jump around in time, generally preferring things proceed in chronological order. When the author finally lands in the 1950s and stays there, however, I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more of the women’s actual war experiences. But I’m not the author and a best-selling New York Times author to boot, so perhaps I should just say it’s a great book. I really enjoyed it and you probably will too.

To order a copy of The Women in the Castle from Amazon.com, click here.

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Cheerios – not just for little fingers

Gone but not forgotten.

General Mills is missing a major marketing opportunity. I keep filling out customer surveys from Kellogg’s and other companies hoping someday they’ll actually listen to me about consumer preferences. They continue to ignore my pleas to reduce the amount of sugar in breakfast cereals and instead choose to blatantly defy me by offering new ‘honey-flavoured’ or ‘crunchy’ product lines which is marketing speak for more sugar. For years I have been eating Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs which contain zero grams of added sugar, four grams of protein and only 100 calories per cup. Add my half cup of organic Canadian wild blueberries with almond milk and a sprinkle of Kellogg’s Bran Buds and I’m a happy girl. While that breakfast sounds reasonably healthy, the shocker is that the seemingly healthy Bran Buds contain a whopping seven grams of sugar (about two teaspoons) in a mere one-third of a cup. That’s just disgraceful Mr. Kellogg.

Consumers must be super-vigilent about what we eat.

The current problem is that no one carries my beloved Kashi 7 Whole Grains Puffs any more, other than Whole Foods and I refuse to pay their exorbitant prices. The solution has been to use my trusty Amazon Prime account and find the cheapest supplier on-line and order a case of ten boxes to be shipped to my home. But that’s accompanied by complications if it’s coming from the United States. The cost of exchange and duty can be prohibitive.

So I spent a considerable amount of time perusing the cereal aisle reading labels to compare ingredients and nutritional value in search of an alternative. Surprisingly, one that came up a winner was every toddler’s favourite finger snack, General Mills Cheerios. One cup of plain, old-fashioned Cheerios contains only 100 calories and one gram of sugar (¼ tsp). With three grams of protein and three grams of fibre in this tasty oat cereal, I think we have a winner.

Works for me. And I’m a tad older than this consumer.

Instead of General Mills targeting only little fingers (Donald Trump notwithstanding) they could and should be marketing to Baby Boomers. Our sluggish digestive systems would enjoy the boost and our budgets would appreciate having more cash freed up for wine. Cheerios are inexpensive and come in boxes large enough to last more than three days (unlike Kashi whose boxes are now so reduced in size at 6.5 oz. they barely stand up by themselves). The boxes are light in weight for hefting home from the grocery store and for those who care, they’re also gluten-free.

I think I’m going to write Mr. General Mills and suggest they redirect their marketing to a previously ignored demographic, Baby Boomers. They may want to consider paying me a royalty. So, if you happen to see commercials on television of a boomer couple sitting side by side in matching bathtubs watching the sun rise over the ocean while munching a bowl of Cheerios, then you’ll know they heard me. I’m no expert but it works for me, minus the tubs. And since I retired, I make a point of not being awake for sunrises. Until then, I’ll hold off investing in General Mills stock. As if anyone listens to me.

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In order to be truly proud, Canada still has work to do

The Canada Day 150 celebrations over the weekend prompted me to briefly relax my television news embargo. Hoping to see a lot of feel-good immigrant success stories (which I did), national coverage of patriotic local events (which there were) and a healthy dose of congratulatory video vignettes (tick that one off too), I tuned in. What I saw also reminded me of why I keep taking regular news sabbaticals.

The one issue that refuses to go away and deeply disturbs me is our government’s treatment of our indigenous people. Watching the mix-up around the installation of a teepee on Parliament Hill was unsettling. That was followed by a story about a group of bullying idiots throwing live fireworks into a group of indigenous women who had set up a peaceful camp to protest the industrial pollution of their source of drinking water. Another story highlighted the tragedy of forgotten murdered and abused indigenous women whose perpetrators were never caught and many of the women never found.

Surely, as a nation we can do better.

What is it going to take to sort out the problems with our native Canadians? The government has a tragic history of mismanaging the issue and there are struggles within the indigenous community itself. Let’s accept there is fault on both sides but the problems remain. Last year I read a moving book entitled “Invisible North” written by Alexandra Shimo, a young female journalist who moved into a northern native community. It paints a grim picture of life on a remote reserve. Basics such as clean drinking water and a supply of healthy food including fresh fruit and vegetables were scarce to non-existent and prohibitively expense in a community where most of the people are unemployed. Various make-work and entrepreneurial initiatives presented by local bands had been rejected by government authorities. Many communities have no local fire department which means over-crowded, small pre-fab bungalows quickly burn to the ground when there is a fire.

Prime Minister Trudeau seems to lend a sympathetic ear but what happens when he walks away from meetings with local bands? I suspect the government continues to drop the ball since the problems are compounding. Solutions are complicated but is asking for progress too much to ask? Is there not someone who can take this bull by the horns and start unraveling the problems and bring employment opportunities to these remote communities? Coal miners in Virginia are being trained to write and program computer code. Can this not be done for our indigenous Canadians? If call centres can be operated from places like India and the Philippines, why not on remote reserves? Norway has managed to build and operate successful greenhouses to grow local produce in Arctic climates. Can we not do the same?

I strongly recommend reading Invisible North. I honestly do not know what each of us as individuals can do to make the situation better but we do need to keep pressure on our government to stop dithering and start doing. Sympathetic handshakes and listening circles do not provide infrastructure for clean drinking water, health and safety services and access to decent food.  As Canadians, that’s the minimum we should expect from our elected leaders.

Click here to read earlier blog:  Better understanding the challenges of Native Canadians on reserves

To order Invisible North, The Search For Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo from Amazon, click here.

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