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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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Tim Horton’s franchisees aiming for a shoot-out

I knew it. I just knew things would go south (literally) when Tim Hortons was taken over by American parent company Restaurant Brands International. RBI also owns Burger King and Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. How can a company with holdings like those possibly understand what Timmie’s means to Canadian culture? When the takeover happened in 2014, I was concerned Timmie’s would lose its Canadian identity and become just another amorphous American fast-food chain. In fact, I blogged about the issue in September 2015. Click here to read Is Timmies still a Canadian cultural icon?

They were hoping because of our innate niceness we wouldn’t notice.

Well, it seems our sugar-coated chickens have come home to roost. Tim Hortons’ Canadian franchisees plan to launch a $500 million class action suit against the RBI American parent and its senior executives claiming that funds they contribute to marketing and sales have been diverted to other corporate coffers, like administration. Each Tim Hortons franchisee is required to pay 3.5% of their gross sales toward a fund to be used exclusively for marketing, sales and promotion. Basically, RBI’s bean counters and their bosses have been caught with their mitts in the donut jar and are getting their fat fingers slapped. Naturally, Sam Siddiqui, President of the Canadian Division denies the accusation. If they think they’re going to pull the toque over our eyes, they’re skating on thin ice.

As a frequent customer and fan of Timmie’s, I consider myself  bit of an expert on the issue, having already noticed a change. The very thing I was dreading came to pass. RBI totally disregarded our Canadian-ness. When was the last time you saw commercials on television of snotty nosed hockey-sweatered Canadian kids gathering at Timmie’s for hot chocolate after practice? Where did those heart-warming shots of our camouflage-clad Canadian soldiers lining up at a Tim Hortons outlet in Afghanistan go? Have you seen any commercials in the last couple of years of polite, multi-ethnic Canadians rolling up the rim on a Vancouver street or on Signal Hill in St. John’s? No? That’s because the RBI bean counters were covertly diverting franchisee’s money into American corporate coffers and hoping because of our innate Canadian politeness we wouldn’t make a fuss.

Am I the only one who thinks Timmie’s lineups are getting longer?

Yep! The lineups at the drive-thru have been getting longer thanks to staff cuts. They’re messing with the quality of the products and franchisees are being pressured to cut costs in order to sustain American executives’ bonuses. Well, that’s just plain un-Canadian and, sorry, we’re having none of it. We can play dirty too. Tim Horton’s franchisees have declared foul and I for one am proud of them. Nobody takes our good nature for granted, hoping we’ll be distracted by Trump’s softwood lumber threats and free trade war. We’re lacing up our skates, putting our best offensive line out on the ice and fighting for our own double double truly Canadian cup. We were hoping it wouldn’t come to this but the RBI Americans have crossed the blue line once too often and we’re calling a penalty. Team Canada is dropping the puck at centre ice and taking our shot. It’s going to be a barn burner.

Click here to read Is Timmies still a Canadian cultural icon?

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Trump was right. Who knew it could be so complicated?

Sometimes, we just need the noise to stop. The Syrian crisis, the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, Putin’s crimes against humanity and the ongoing terrorist threats scare the crap out of me. Then, we have escalating trade wars, racism and climate change denial. Not to mention Trump’s lies and regressive new laws that completely disregard the ordinary person and the future of our planet. When the news starts I get a knot in my stomach so I turn off the television or radio. As I sit looking out my window into the yard watching the trees move gently in the breeze and the new flowers coming to life, listen to the birds, my mind melts into a more peaceful state.

Has the world really become so much more complicated or is my memory failing me?  In the swinging sixties while we were wearing mini-skirts, dancing the night away to Creedence Clearwater or worrying about whether “he would call”, there were still serious issues. We had the the horribly escalating Vietnam War, Bay of Pigs, Khrushchev, and of course, Richard Nixon. We were convinced the world was constantly on the brink of nuclear attack. Later on, Bush Jr. baffled us with his stupidity, lied to the world about false threats and sent innocent young members of the military to their unnecessary early deaths.

Since the beginning of time the world has been in state of turmoil and seemingly on the brink of some war or another. Catastrophic economic depressions in the seventies and to a more serious degree in the nineties wiped out financial security for large segments of the population. AIDS, SARS and other chronic diseases were front page news. Every so often I have to take a sabbatical from the news. Electronic media can simply be turned off. Reading print media requires I just skip over the bits I find distressing. Talking about issues with friends sometimes means changing the subject when we get too frustrated and angry about current events. Despite his stratospheric ego, Donald Trump doesn’t know much which is truly frightening. But the world is a complicated place and the further away I get from his noise the less complicated it becomes. That’s one thing I can do to make the world a better place, at least for me.

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Boomer feel-good movie felt limp

There aren’t a lot of movies out there that appeal to the Boomer set, so when one finally appears, we organize a girls’ outing, line up for our cheap seniors’ tickets, then line up again for our gallon pail of Diet Coke and bucket of chemically questionable popcorn. That’s what happened this week when my gal pals and I settled in to see Paris Can Wait starring Diane Lane and Arnaud Viard with a cameo by Alec Baldwin. The reviews weren’t great but we figured it would be worth the price of admission to see wide shots of French scenery.

Diane Lane plays the neglected wife of a movie producer (Alec Baldwin) who can’t fly to Paris from the French Riviera because of an inner ear ailment. When Jacques, a French associate producer played by Arnaud Viard offers to drive her, since he’s ‘going that way’, she reluctantly agrees. What should be a direct drive becomes several days exploring the historical, esthetic and culinary delights of Provence and the Rhône Valley under the tutelage of the charming Frenchman. Eventually, they do get to Paris. Sounds like a wonderful trip.

In our opinion, the only people who really enjoyed Paris Can Wait would be those who starred in and were involved in making the movie. They got to spend a few weeks in France during the summer on an expense account while getting paid a nice salary. I don’t always agree with the critics, but this time, they were right.  One of my gal pals even fell asleep toward the end. The plot was trite and Harlequin-novel-like. Every cloud has a silver lining though. The Rick Steeves-like descriptions of local tourist attractions and beautiful cinematography were wonderful. That and the popcorn, followed by the four of us going for tea at Timmies after the movie made the afternoon worthwhile. Save your money. Wait for it to come on television and watch it for free. My advice? Pass Paris and proceed directly to Timmies.

Click here for the review by Rotten Tomatoes

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Top 10 suggestions for Hudson’s Bay to survive

My love/hate relationship with The Hudson’s Bay Company (comparable to Macy’s in the United States) just took a turn. I want to scream “I told you so”. When I heard the news they’re laying off thousands of people in response to declining sales I felt an immense sense of sadness for the sales associates who work there at low wages and will be losing their jobs. But what about the customers? In all matters relating to retail, the number one factor that gets ignored in the equation is the customer. The experts and execs say the cuts are necessary because customers are resorting to on-line shopping. No bloody wonder.

I love The Hudson’s Bay Company and have their limited edition Barbie doll to prove it. As Canada’s oldest retailer (350 years+), Hudson’s Bay has been my default department store since the days when Robert Simpson Company occupied their stores. Over the years, I’ve written snail mail letters to the executives, emailed store managers and blogged about their abysmal customer service. Obviously they weren’t listening to me—the customer—after all, what do I know? Shopping at Hudson’s Bay Company is an experience right up there with shopping at Costco, minus the giant carts. Their stores offer an overwhelming inventory of great, good and not-so-good merchandise, crammed into unimaginative space with minimal eye-appealing merchandising, no visible sales associates to help customers and tiring lineups at the few available check-outs. What’s crucial is we expect better from Hudson’s Bay.

The bean counters have deemed that the problem with The Hudson’s Bay Company can be solved by reducing the payroll. Brilliant! That’s like closing the barn door after the horses have left. And replacing them with wooden replicas. I’m going to really love shopping at a store where the service is even worse (is that even possible?) than before. As the humble generator of business and the total raison d’être for Hudson’s Bay to exist, I, the customer would once again like to offer my suggestions for improving sales and ultimately the bottom line:

Some retailers get it.

  1.  Audit and edit your merchandise. Get rid of the crap no one wants to buy. Pare down inventory. This might require editing your buyers as well. Are your buyers truly tuned in to your customers?
  2. Use the money saved from getting rid of excess inventory to hire more sales associates to help me find sizes, assist with “looks” and suggest options.
  3. Put these new additional sales associates on the floor to actually help customers, not just be chained to the checkout desk attending to lineups.
  4. Expand the use of tasteful displays and mannequins. I’m often inspired to purchase by creative merchandising displays. Downtown flagship stores are lovely but suburban mall stores frequently resembles a jumble sale. Make the shopping experience more (dare it say it?) enjoyable. Unfortunately . . . see Item 2.
  5. Pay your staff enough that they enjoy what they’re doing and take pride in being a sales associate. Provide better training. Paying overworked sales associates minimum or low wages only causes resentment. This can be financed by following Item 1 above.
  6. Here’s a radical idea. A place for Boomer ladies to rest our old bones while we’re shopping or waiting for ASSISTANCE?

    Amp up the store environment. Improve strategic lighting and deep six the blanket fluorescent lights treatment. How about placing a few comfortable chairs with side tables offering inspirational fashion brochures from manufacturers or current fashion magazines. Maybe some videos of how to put outfits together?

  7. Send employees to the Nordstrom school of retail training.
  8. Always search above and beyond what’s available on the floor. When you don’t have my size, offer to find it. See Item 7 above.
  9. Don’t ever forget who ultimately pays your bills—me, the customer.
  10. Check with your customers once in a while to see how we’re doing? In all my fifty-plus years of department store shopping, I’ve never once had a retailer ask me what I want. It would be so easy to survey customers through accounts or on-line. I’d love to have the opportunity of being heard by serving on a customer council.

As someone who once worked for Eaton’s at their College Street store in Toronto, I have experience on both sides of the counter. Is anyone listening? Or are your customers irrelevant? Therein lies the problem. I told you so.

Here are some links to previous blog postings about Hudson’s Bay and general retail concerns:

How to improve sales at Hudson’s Bay

Retail rant hits home

The solution for Canadian retailers is as easy as 1, 2, 3

What on earth was The Hudson’s Bay Company Thinking?

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These feet were made for walking

Once upon a time, in my glory days, through wind and rain and sleet and hail.

One of the fashion bloggers I like to follow (click here for Susan After 60) has recently admitted she can longer wear her beloved heels and is now sporting fashionable flats on a regular basis. Susan lasted longer than most of us. I clearly remember wearing high heels in my younger days and treating the shoes and my feet like they were invincible. For many years I lived and worked in downtown Toronto and could walk to and from work. I’ve never been a morning person and often ended up running to work so I wouldn’t be late. Sprinting through the downtown streets in gorgeous heels it never once occurred to me that one day my graceful high arches would rebel.

Over the years I started paying more attention to comfort although I never did stoop to wearing running shoes back and forth from the office. The lower right drawer of my desk was filled with all my gorgeous fashion shoes that I switched into as soon as I sat down and removed my comfie walking shoes. Nothing is more empowering than strutting around the office in sexy heels. Inevitably, as my chronological age went up, the heels went down. By the time I retired, I could barely get through the office Christmas party in heels.

Then it happened—plantar fasciitis. It’s an inflammation of the elastic ligament that runs between the ball of the foot and heel. You’ll know you have it as soon as you put your foot on the floor when you get out of bed in the morning. Putting your foot down and walking will generate excruciating pain in the bottom of your heel. You can somewhat work it out as the day goes on, but it comes roaring back and can last years.

The first time I experienced plantar fasciitis, I cured it with hip replacements. Being off my feet for awhile after the surgery allowed the inflamed plantar fascia to calm down and heal. I was mercifully pain-free until about three months ago. Then, one morning it returned in my right foot with a vengeance. Turning to Google, I tried every home remedy recommended including ice, massage, reflexology, rolling a golf ball and tennis ball under my foot, stretching exercises and nothing worked. Since another hip replacement seemed a bit over-the-top, I visited a foot doctor who gave me a shot of cortisone in the bottom of my heel to reduce inflammation. It has mitigated the pain somewhat but I’m not out of the woods yet.

I have several pairs of FitFlops and prefer the thicker-soled version. They’re available at Hudson’s Bay, Ron White Shoes and on-line.

My future now consists of footwear with industrial strength arch supports and lots of cushioning and support. I’ve always had good luck with FitFlops™ (click here for link, and they’re on sale), a branded sandal designed by a British foot doctor, but I may have to opt for something even more structured. We blithely take our various body parts for granted when they’re working as they should but as soon as something like our backs, feet or knees crap out, we gain an immeasurable respect and appreciation for our parts when they’re healthy and functioning. I’ve been unable to walk the dog or even myself for a few months and I can’t wait to get back to normal. I’ll thank our spirit sisters every day when I’m fully mobile again.

I refuse to say goodbye to my tough-looking biker boots just yet though. With a closet full of lovely shoes I’m heavily invested in healing. Women who love shoes will understand when I tell them about the ritual performed when I bring new shoes home. I place them, like a work of art on the diningroom table to admire, fresh out of the box. Then, at bedtime, I move them to my night table where they’ll be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Perhaps it’s a throwback to growing up in the more austere fifties and sixties when we were lucky to get a new pair of shoes every couple of years. Boomer sisters will understand the magic powers of gorgeous shoes. They elevate not only our legs but our very souls. From fuscia pink suede platforms I purchased in London, England in the swinging sixties to mustard yellow suede platforms worn in my tottering sixties . . . and all the years in between, shoes have been part of beautiful memories.

Listen. Do you hear it too? The sirens’ call.

When I see retail sales assistants prancing around in gorgeous four-inch python-printed strappy heels, I react like a grouchy old lady (which if you regularly read my blogs, you’ll understand). “Enjoy them while you can” I say. “Someday you’ll be wearing Mephistos and Birkenstocks like me.” But I promise they’ll be python printed or bright red patent leather. And you’ll never see me wearing them with socks. That would just be too embarrassing. At least not until I’m in ‘the home’ and by then I’ll be too stoned on medical marijuana-infused gummy bears and too blissfully unaware of my feet to care.

Footnote: I receive no financial or other benefit from mentioning FitFlops™, Hudson’s Bay or Ron White Shoes in this post.

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Paris can be more than a destination on a map

Every so often we come across a book that is a total joy to read, start to finish. That’s what happened when I read Paris Letters by Canadian Janice MacLeod. It’s a true account of her journey after growing up in small town Ontario to living an artist’s life in Paris. Upon finishing university, she embraced the Madmen lifestyle, working in middle management as a direct mail copywriter for a major advertising agency in Los Angeles. After ten years of unfulfilling peddling on the corporate treadmill, she slowed down enough to listen to her inner voice. MacLeod read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (which I also read several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed), tried various hobbies, did some soul-searching and started a process of extricating herself from the corporate rat race and reevaluating society’s definition of success.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and MacLeod is traveling in Europe. First stop, Paris. Sipping café crème while journaling at a sidewalk café, she finds herself attracted to the handsome butcher operating the shop across the street. The inevitable happens and a quick romance ensues. But is it the real thing? She ventures on to Rome, Scotland and England, returning to Paris and her new friend to see how things shake out. A new life takes life.

Janice MacLeod’s decision to change her life reminded me of the saying, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

Whatever path we follow, the bottom line is we still need to earn a living to cover the bottom line. MacLeod combines her love of simple water-colour painting and letter writing and creates a personalized subscription service which she markets on Etsy. She creates regular journal-style descriptions of her Paris life accompanied by her watercolour paintings of local street scenes which she sends in illustrated letters to subscribers.

As I turned each page of Paris Letters, I found myself smiling in recognition and empathy. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to take her life in a different direction. MacLeod tells us exactly how she engineered her transition including re-evaluating friendships, auditing and culling her physical surroundings, prioritizing her activities and taking control of her financial future. These are all processes we may have undertaken ourselves or would like to.

I clearly recall saving for a trip to Europe during my first two years of working from 1965 to 1967. I made $55.50 per week working for Ma Bell and allowed myself fifty cents a day for lunches in the Bell Cafeteria. That bought me mashed potatoes with gravy and one vegetable with a half-pint of milk. After two years, I’d accrued over three thousand dollars and my trip also became reality. She also refers to the bad dreams she still has about deadlines and projects from her corporate days. I also have those dreams even though I’ve been retired for several years. The stress of corporate life lingers long after we think it’s been banished.

MacLeod recounts an unsatisfactory love life during her early working years in Los Angeles describing it as devoted to becoming whoever her current boyfriend wanted her to be. “If a guy was a granola-eating hippie, so was I. If he was a runner, I was a runner.” Sound familiar? I could so relate to that and even blogged about it (click here to read ‘I love me too’). Oh, the mistakes we make when we’re young and foolish.

I read every page of Paris Letters with a smile on my face. It was an inspiring and uplifting read. I whizzed through it in a couple of days, although I wish it had lasted longer. I intend to read more by Janice MacLeod. Anything that makes me feel that good is good.

To order your own copy of Paris letters from Amazon, click here.

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The Price of Illusion exposes flaws in the life of luxury

A popular song from 1969, Where Do You Go To My Lovely (click here to listen) by Peter Sarstedt played in a steady loop in my brain as I was reading The Price of Illusion, a memoir by Joan Juliet Buck:

“You talk like Marlène Dietrich
And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire
Your clothes are all made by Balmain
And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are

You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard Saint-Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do. . . ”

Joan Juliet Buck. Been there; done it; got the Chanel bag.

That song, although written long before Joan Juliet Buck embraced the lifestyle it describes, could have been her life. The Price of Illusion, a memoir by the former editor of Paris Vogue is a fascinating read. The story of her childhood drags a bit in the beginning but picks up when she becomes a young woman and begins her peripatetic transcontinental life. Buck was the silver spoon only child of Hollywood producer Jules Buck who was responsible for such memorable films as Lawrence of Arabia and Goodbye Mr. Chips starring newly discovered Peter O’Toole. She lived a transcontinental lifestyle in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles, spending much of her childhood in Ireland at the home of her godfather, John Huston. There, she formed a life-long friendship with his daughter Angelica.

Moving in such illustrious circles obviously positions her to name-drop many famous people in the worlds of entertainment, politics and business. At first I found this off-putting but soon I was enjoying the rare first-hand insights into a world of wealth, glamour and superficiality. I learned the high life is not all glamour and glory. While Buck was an enthusiastic participant in all forms of pleasure, her highest highs were achieved while overseeing the rebirth of Paris Vogue from its traditional, staid format to a more edgy, avant garde publication. Under her stewardship in the nineties, the magazine doubled its readership and appeal.

Paris Vogue presented itself as being all things representative of French women.

Buck is an excellent writer and her brutal honesty combine to produce a wonderful read. I was halfway through the book before reaching her Vogue years but it was worth the wait. Being close friends with such icons as Yves St. Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Charlotte Rampling, Lauren Bacall and Angelica Huston, Buck transports us into worlds we would otherwise never be able to access. Like any human being, her life is composed of extreme highs and correspondingly debilitating lows. When she was sabotaged by a business associate at Paris Vogue and sent to rehab on false charges of addiction, her life unravelled. Losing her job along with its corresponding salary and benefits meant she could no longer support her ailing father. No matter how charmed one’s life may seem, no one escapes pain, loss or disappointment, even the privileged.

The Price of Illusion is obviously the story of a woman who lived most of her life in a superficial haze of privilege. As a life-long journal keeper and a keen observer of human nature, Joan Juliet Buck treats us to a view of the glamorous life that undoes many of our misconceptions. Her recollections and challenges along the way make for a fascinating read. As someone retired from the corporate world, I found the business and political challenges she encountered along the way to be particularly interesting, especially since I plan to be a magazine editor in my next life. Although I was unsure I would enjoy the book when I first began reading, I was soon swept up in the excitement of a life lived in realms beyond what any ordinary person would ever experience. And, ultimately, that’s the essence and joy of reading. I escaped into another world and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

To order The Price of Illusion by Joan Juliet Buck from Amazon, click here.

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