BOOMERBROADcast

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


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Life in Russia is complex beyond words

It’s so satisfying to become engrossed in a big fat book you really enjoy. The Patriots by Russian-born author Sana Krasikov more than satisfied my current passion for historical fiction by Russian authors. The main character Florence Fein is a Jewish intellectual who grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s. Educated and adventuresome, Florence becomes enamoured with communist philosophy while working for a left-wing organization when she finishes college. After falling in love with a Russian engineer visiting on a state-sponsored mission, she sets sail for Russia in hopes of finding him and building a new life in the land of her naive dreams.

Rejected by her Russian lover, Florence moves on and her language skills allow her to work in her new country. Despite the hardships endured by common working people like Florence during the Stalin years, she embraces her new culture and pursues her ideals. The story moves back and forth between her early years in Russia and the year 2008 when her American son and grandson are confronted with the consequences of her choices.

The story provides an informed look inside the daily lives of ordinary Russian citizens under Stalin. The purges, deprivations and injustices force people to live in a state of constant fear. The slightest infraction or even perceived misinterpretation of ever-changing philosophy could result in imprisonment in a labour camp in Siberia, or more likely death. Florence tries vainly to play by the rules. She marries, has a child and works at whatever job she is given in order to maintain a degree of equilibrium in her life. Despite intermittent spells of homesickness, she remains loyal to the communist ideology, even after the government confiscates her American passport and she becomes an unwilling Soviet citizen.

Like many multi-generational sagas, the story circles from Moscow back to New York where her son and his family choose to immigrate as a result of being denied his doctoral degree because of quotas against Jews. Florence is a complicated woman, made more so by the challenges of trying to stay alive and live a simple life in Russia. It’s difficult for North Americans to imagine living under the pressures and stresses of a society built around intimidation, constant surveillance, corruption and lies (although we’re learning). The plot of the story is fascinating in itself, but the psychological examination of the characters adds an even deeper layer to the narrative. As much as I loved the book, I was sorry to finish and leave behind the characters in whom I’d become so invested. I highly recommend The Patriots. I’d give it a nine out of ten.

To order The Patriots by Sana Krasikov from Amazon, click here.

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How many e-readers are too many?

To E or not to E?

At the present time, in addition to being a voracious reader of hardcopy books, magazines and newspapers, I juggle several e-readers to meet my daily needs. Just like computer nerds who have multiple monitors flashing with activity on their desks, it takes several devices to satisfy my lust for the written word. The rationale compares to having multiple pairs of black shoes or a variety of purses (Boomer women can relate). Sometimes you like the comfy rubber soled walkers and other times you prefer the stack-em high stilettos that forsake comfort and performance for attitude.

I’ve been known to shoot smart phone users the evil eye as they thumb their devices in the company of friends at lunch or dinner. I’ve indiscreetly suggested that friends leave them in their purses when we’re lunching or catching up over a cup of tea. I rarely use my own cell phone and quickly become impatient with people who are constantly fiddling with theirs. But try to separate me from my iPad and I’d immediately suffer the DTs. I must confess, though, that I still prefer to read the newspaper in old-fashioned hard copy spread out on my kitchen table. With so many newspapers, magazines and other print publications being threatened with extinction, we have a responsibility to support print publication as much as possible. I’m certainly doing my bit with eighteen subscriptions per month.

Some British mags are just too delicious to wait for the hard copy, so e-subscriptions fit the bill

Since reading is my favourite thing in the world to do, I have totally embraced the digital world which offers unlimited access to nearly every word ever written. As the owner of two Kindles, two iPads and one Kobo I’m always just arm’s length from accessing my current library book, reference book or favourite British magazine that takes too long to reach our shores in hard copy.

A friend recently emailed to ask my opinion on the best e-reader as he was contemplating buying one. Since I’ve owned five, he felt I was somewhat qualified to have an informed opinion. My answer was the iPad mini because of its light weight and versatility. But that’s subjective and I certainly don’t want to diminish the merits and joy of reading on Kindle, Kobo or old-fashioned hardcover books. It’s just that e-readers have greatly reduced my burgeoning inventory of books needing literal shelf space and have saved me a ton of money by downloading from the public library or on-line retailers. E-readers are unbeatable for loading up several books when traveling. They’re convenient for carrying in your purse for a quick read while gobbling a burger and fries at Five Guys, or while getting a pedicure. There are so many options available. Take your pick but I highly recommend picking at least one. The way I read it, the more the merrier.

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Avoid these 6 fashion mistakes

Who am I to be offering fashion advice! Boomer gals have always been told “If you wore it once before, you can’t wear it again”. That’s the beauty of listening to us—we’ve been there at least once, made our share of mistakes and are happy to dispense fashion advice to anyone who will listen. So, if you’re willing to listen, I’m going to share six fashion mistakes I’ve made over the years and strongly suggest you not repeat them.

  1. Don’t buy into everything the fashion mags promote. They get it wrong more often than not.

    Jumpsuits or rompers: Several decades ago, an old boyfriend gave me a bubble-gum pink crimpolene (the fabric alone should give you an idea of how long ago it was) one-piece jumpsuit for Christmas. I felt like a circus clown minus the fright wig (that came later) in the outfit and had to completely undress every time I went to the bathroom. The nightmare still lingers. Spare yourself this disaster. No one looks good in a jumpsuit, I don’t care what the fashionistas say.

  2. Shoes that almost fit: Who hasn’t gone into Town Shoes or Nine West when they’re having their seasonal clear out sale and picked up some great buys, only to wear them once. Shoes never stretch and they never get comfortable if they’re not absolutely perfect in the store. Buy shoes late in the day when your feet are swollen and tender to ensure a good fit. Opt for quality and comfort over price. If you didn’t love them at full price, they’re no better at fifty percent off and half a size too small.
  3. Coulottes and jumpsuits never were and never will be flattering on anyone – ever!

    Beware of trends:  Ladies of a certain age (Boomers) have to be discriminating about what fashion trends we buy into and not get sucked in to what they’re plugging in magazines or on television. Our knees have gone south and are no longer what they used to be so that rules out mini skirts and short dresses. (Remember: we did that half a century ago.) Coulottes were never attractive. If you’re going to buy a “cold shoulder” top or wild print, don’t pay a lot because you’ll soon tire of it and next year it won’t work. By the way, Jackie Kennedy never wore prints. Worth noting.

  4. Quantity over quality: When you’re young it’s tempting to go for lots of cheap items of “disposable” clothing. Variety rules and “more” outranks “better”. Unfortunately, the total expenditure often equals that of a few better-made, quality pieces that fit better, are more versatile and get more mileage. We quickly get bored with that over-the-top print or fed up with the drape of a cheaply made dress. There’s merit in calculating the “cost per wearing” factor over the lifespan of the item.
  5. Colours matter: When I wear anything orange I look jaundiced. Same goes for red hair, which I tried once for forty-eight hours. Be conscious of your most flattering colour palette. I’ve also noticed that as we age, colour is our friend; beige is for cadavers. Much as I love grays with silver jewelry, I have to add a citrus green or pink scarf to make it pop. And I don’t think there’s a woman alive who doesn’t look smashing in red, including redheads.
  6. Oh dear! We’ve all been there, or tried to.

    Tattoos: Be very very careful before you ink. Over time tats fade and blur and nothing is more unappealing than old wrinkled skin sporting an indistinguishable wrinkled old tattoo. The same applies for “permanent makeup”. A friend once had her over-plucked eyebrows tattooed in. They looked lovely—at first, then they faded and turned mauve. And, have you ever seen a woman with permanent tattooed dark lip liner when her lipstick wears off? Beyond not pretty! (And this from someone who is contemplating trying the new “microblading” technique to fill in my own over-plucked brows. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Boomer gals have racked up more than our share of fashion “don’ts” over the years. In the seventies, I once sported khaki green hair when I accidentally bleached my hair (the “hair lightening” label on the box was misleading) and tried to fix it by applying a medium ash blonde permanent colour. I won’t even begin describing the perm disasters and styling mistakes I’ve lived through. Am I the only idiot who tried one of those perms that looked like a bushy Julius Caesar laurel wreath around your head with flat hair on top? At least the rage for wearing white nurses’ pantyhose in the seventies wasn’t permanent and quickly passed.

We whipped up dozens of these little beauties in the sixties and seventies.

The upside of these fashion disasters is that it gives us plenty to laugh about when we look at old photos and reminisce over multiple glasses of icey Pinot Grigio. One of my friends still has the lime green leather mini skirt she wore in the sixties, with a matching jacket and expensive long brown boots (both long gone). The saved mini skirt is about a foot long and not much wider, worthy we think of being displayed in a shadow box and hung on the wall. Some things just deserve museum status.

Remember the quaint little printed empire-waisted “village” dresses we wore in the mid-sixties? At $14.98 they were a little out of my price-range. Back then, when most of us were broke and still able to sew, we whipped up dozens of little A-line mini dresses trimmed in braid or rick-rack. Fancying myself a bit avant-garde, I liked to buy floral drapery fabric purchased at Toronto’s posh Eaton’s College Street store to make mine and . . . well I’ll leave it to your imagination. Once, I even made a matching purse out of an empty kleenex box (the cardboard was a lot stronger in those days) covered with the same fabric as my dress. And now I have the nerve to offer fashion advice?

A wee bit older and a bit wiser.

While Boomers are not willing to make these mistakes again, perhaps there is some merit in the younger generation baring their midriff and sporting blue hair while tottering around on five-inch platforms. It’ll give them something to laugh about with their friends in the year 2050, remembering when they too once had bodies they thought would last forever. And that’s worth more than the price of a good bottle of Pinot . . . if you feel comfortable taking fashion advice from someone who once proudly sported a purse made from a Kleenex box.

Share your own fashion oopsies with our readers in the “Comments” section.

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From this day forth, all male citizens will be circumcised

Imagine if Parliament passed a law that required every male in the country to be circumcised. Or, what if getting a vasectomy required the written permission of the local Catholic priest, regardless of your religion. What would the reaction be if every male in the country was forced to undergo a rectal exam before he was allowed buy condoms. As bizarre as this sounds, that’s exactly the kind of obstacles and unwarranted control over their bodies that women in the United States are now facing compliments of a reactionary, misogynistic government.

There are reasons the original fathers of the American constitution insisted on separation of church and state.  Removing funding from Planned Parenthood has eliminated access for millions of women to assistance in health-related services like breast and pap examinations, STD testing, birth control and other counseling. Students, low-income women and minorities are not the only beneficiaries of services related to women’s health and particular segments of the population are totally dependent on them.

It’s difficult for men to comprehend the challenges faced by women on many levels in everyday life. We cope with lower pay, gender discrimination and general lack of support for “women’s issues”. Many men are oblivious and it’s our responsibility to educate and inform the men in our lives about the importance of fairness and equality. I wish I’d been more vocal when I was younger. If I had, I would have made more money and had a much fatter pension plan waiting for me upon retirement. But, it’s still not too late to make our voices heard.

This won’t hurt a bit. Trust us. We know what’s best for you.

Fortunately, as a Canadian, I live in a more enlightened society. We take care of our sick through universal health care and are more progressive in recognition of women’s issues than our southern neighbours. Canadian women are able to access maternity and health care services our American sisters only dream of.  Perhaps they should start lobbying for reciprocal restrictions on males in health, economic and social issues. Many health plans reimburse men for the cost of Viagra but do not reimburse women for birth control pills. Imagine the backlash if men earned just seventy-six percent of what women made? How would they react to being told they had to get the approval of a fusty old doctor before they could father children or alternatively, choose not to father children. The threat of mutilation or something physically invasive happening to their little boy private parts might get the attention of the alpha neanderthals running the country. Only then will they truly understand what it feels like to have a third party have the final say on what happens to their body, i.e. to be a woman. Religious dogma notwithstanding, men as well as women are the beneficiaries of freedom. America’s founding fathers understood this, but unfortunately the current government can’t read.

Tracey Ullmann captures the essence of women’s struggles brilliantly.

If you haven’t seen it already, you’ll understand the imbalance when you watch this YouTube Video by British comedienne Tracey Ullmann. Click here.

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The Sense of an Ending ends with a twist

How would you react to receiving a letter or other communication from someone you were intimate with in the swinging sixties or early seventies and lost track of decades ago? And what if that communication required a face-to-face meeting, after all these years? Imagine the emotions that would be ignited. That intriguing premise is the basis for a book by Julian Barnes called The Sense of an Ending. What prompted me to read the book was a review in The New York Times. The reviewer was so impressed with the story that as soon as he finished, he immediately started at the beginning to read it again. I can’t say that was my response but I did enjoy it enormously.

At around two hundred pages, The Sense of an Ending is a quick, easy read. When I first started reading, the main character, Anthony Webster reminded me of Holden Caulfield. The story begins in the early sixties with the friendship of three schoolboys in England whose dynamic is altered by the later introduction of a fourth boy, Adrian. When they go off to different universities, they maintain a tentative friendship but their lives naturally begin to follow divergent paths. We follow Tony Webster’s journey through the changes generated early in the sexual revolution. We observe his struggles and confusion with “the meaning of life” which was a popular concern of boomers. Then, suddenly, he’s in his seventies and receives a solicitor’s letter informing him he’s been named as the beneficiary of a minor settlement in the will of the mother of an old girlfriend from university.

The emotional struggles, the mystery surrounding the endowment and the confrontations that result profoundly affect Tony Webster’s entire philosophy of life. I won’t divulge the plot and its twists as I really think you should experience the book first-hand. Baby boomers will relate to the subtleties of morals, ambitions and social relationships we experienced and will find the book particularly interesting. But it’s also a kind of mystery story with a plot twist that makes the entire book worth reading.

Click here to order The Sense of an Ending from Amazon.com

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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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What did you do yesterday?

This is a test. To reassure me that I’m not losing my marbles. When I was out walking the dog the other day, I stopped to visit a friend who casually asked “What did you do yesterday?”. I drew a complete blank. At our age (Boomers) memory lapses are to be expected as some mental inventory gets rotated out to accommodate new material, but my off-loading is getting alarming. Just to test myself, I do remember what I did yesterday. I went grocery shopping, got my glasses adjusted and had lunch at Five Guys. Are you impressed?

Ask any Baby Boomer how they keep busy now that we’re retired and the answer is inevitably “I don’t know how I had time to work every day”. We fill our days with activities that we enjoy and even routine chores are no longer as onerous now that we have the luxury of controlling our own time. But not being able to remember what I did just yesterday is concerning me. That prompted me to dig up an earlier post from about three years ago on this issue. If you remember reading it—congratulations. If not, welcome to my world:

I’m not OK. Are you OK?

 

 

Was it something I did wrong in the sixties?

Could the once-brilliant minds of our entire Boomer generation be slowly slip-sliding away? Was it too much wine and other mood-enhancers we’ve used over the years?  Do we have late-onset brain damage from all those years of sleeping on brush rollers in high school? Or are we retiring too early and “losing it”? Perhaps the sins and excesses of our youth are coming home to haunt us. In a short 24-hour span this past weekend I experienced and witnessed enough lapses in cognition to cause major concern.

It began on Friday when I joined a girlfriend for lunch at her condo. The table was beautifully set with fine china, colourful, origami-folded napkins, a little gift bag at each place and large goblets for our flavoured mineral water (if we drink wine at lunch we fall asleep before dessert).  When I questioned the third place-setting and my hostess mentioned it was for so-and-so, I reminded her that so-and-so had e-mailed a week earlier that she couldn’t come. OMG. Hostess didn’t read the entire e-mail and just assumed the reply was an acceptance. On the positive side, that meant that I could gorge myself silly on extra finger sandwiches and fruit flan.

The second misadventure was a double-header. When my honey and I got married, the wedding date conveniently corresponded closely with his birthday so he’d have no excuse for forgetting our anniversary. Anniversary on the 12th. Birthday on the 16th. Simple. On the morning of the 12th I gave him his birthday present and cards and wished him a happy birthday. “But it’s not my birthday” he said. Second OMG. “Oh no. You’re right. Today’s not your birthday, it’s our anniversary” I yelled as I snatched the gift and cards from his hands. “It’s our anniversary?” he said. Emergency run to Superstore for flowers and card. We’d both screwed up. The honeymoon’s over.

 

 

About an hour later, we received a phone call from friends who’d gone to a cottage for the weekend. After taking a day off work on Friday and driving four hours to get to the cottage, they arrived to find no-one there—they’d got the date wrong and were a week early! Another four-hour drive and they’re back in the city and miraculously, still married. Some friends turned up a week early for a dinner date at an out-of-town restaurant with other friends. Hmmm.

Is it just me?

Finally, on Saturday we went to my husband’s birthday celebration (on our anniversary, in case you’re having trouble keeping all this straight) at his son’s place in London, Ontario. During late-afternoon cocktails, his grandson asked my husband what type of car he should buy. Puzzled by the question, said grandson produced a blank cheque I had written for said grandson’s birthday. In the course of writing a number of birthday and graduation gift cheques I had inadvertently neglected to fill in the amount. Thank God no one at Canada Post intercepted that one or we’d be living in our car and getting paper routes to keep us in Pinot Grigio.

Calendar confusion? Inattention to detail? What’s next? It wasn’t that long ago I used nail polish remover instead of toner on my face when I inadvertently picked up the wrong bottle. I’m a voracious reader and I also log every book I’ve read as soon as I finish it because as soon as I start a new one I can’t remember the last book I read. I can remember the words of every song from the sixties but not my cell phone number. How long will it be before I start hiding my own Easter eggs. Has the Mad Men/Mad Women era returned? I’m not OK with that. Are you?

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