BOOMERBROADcast

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


7 Comments

Are our senior citizens really OK?


The other day I posted a book review that included a condemnation of our tendency to judge people without knowing their background story. In fact, my entire blog is a form of judgement. I did it again this week, at the grocery store. I’ll give you the details and let you be the judge.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for fresh local produce. Does everyone have access?

It’s harvest season in Ontario, the season for juicy, fresh beefsteak tomatoes, peaches and no end of wonderful local produce. Shoppers are checking out with bushels of Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and fruit for preserving. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for fresh food.

As I was standing in the produce section husking corn into a giant bin in the middle of the floor, a small, very elderly, very frail gentleman approached. He was probably in his nineties and his face was sweet and kind looking. His grocery tote was a hand truck he’d brought with him with a single reuseable vinyl grocery bag propped open on the base. He was wearing worn, comfortable shoes and socks, a short-sleeved plaid shirt and beige shorts. His shorts were held up with striped suspenders and where one of the suspender’s clips was broken, he’d used a bit of twine to tie the suspenders to the belt loop of his shorts. This simple piece of twine touched my heart as it reminded me of how resourceful and practical his generation is—those who grew up in the Depression—so different from the obscene consumerism of subsequent generations.

For a few minutes I was transfixed as I watched this stooped gentleman pick three ears of corn and place them in his vinyl shopping bag. An Asian woman standing nearby helped him dig through the bin to find some nice ones. All of a sudden I found myself contemplating his entire back story in my imagination. Where did he live? Did he live alone? Did he drive himself here? Did he walk, pushing his hand truck? How does he manage in winter? Particularly in a large city it’s so easy for these vulnerable people to be forgotten.

Because he was buying groceries, he obviously does not live in an assisted living facility. Perhaps he lives in a nearby apartment or maybe he’s still living in the same little bungalow he bought in the 1950s and is unwilling to leave. Does he have children? Do they visit him and help him out? Is his wife still alive or did she pass a few years ago? Is he lonely? Does he need help? So many questions swirled around in my head for the few minutes I observed him.

I found myself thinking of my own father who is 92 and lives in the most wonderful assisted living residence I could imagine. He’s happy, healthy, well taken care of, still drives and is mentally as sharp as ever. His residence overlooks the Trent Canal in front and Ranney Falls on the Trent River behind the building. It’s an idyllic environment and he’s surrounded by kind, caring people and fellow residents he’s known for decades.

I worry about whether our vulnerable seniors are being cared for.

My dilemma concerns my judgement of the elderly man in the grocery store. My initial reaction to seeing this man was sadness. I found myself wishing he could be living carefree in a residence like my father’s. Then, he wouldn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning or even getting his clothes mended. But perhaps I’m wrong to cast judgement. Maybe he’s living the life he chooses, independent and busy with the simple rituals and routines of daily life. Perhaps my concern is misplaced and he’s happily living his best life. I wonder if and how my husband I will be coping when we’re in our nineties—which isn’t that far off anymore, and if we make it that far. Once again I found myself casting judgement on someone I knew nothing about, however, sympathetic my intentions. I’m still thinking about him, days later. I can’t get him out of my mind, wondering how he’s doing. Is he OK? Are they all OK?

 


5 Comments

Don’t buy into the multi-tasking myth


Don’t you believe it!

Science is now confirming what we’ve long suspected—that multi-tasking is not only an overrated virtue but can in fact be counter-productive. Women in particular have been brainwashed to think we should be able to juggle work, home, community and social activity balls simultaneously and efficiently without dropping a single one in order to be deemed successful mothers, wives and human beings. Well, it’s all bull crap. Multi-tasking only results in an outcome that is less than it could or should be. This realization prompted me to dig up a posting on the value of down-time that I published a few years ago. Let’s not fall for the multi-tasking myth and instead allow ourselves the time and space we need to properly manage and in fact, enjoy our lives.

Feeling uninspired? Take a nap

Leah Eichler’s Women@Work column in The Globe and Mail was a source of inspiration and affirmation better than most I’ve read in a while. Eichler maintains that we often get our best ideas when our brains are off-duty. Haven’t you ever been struck with a brilliant idea just as you’re about to drop off to sleep or when you’re walking the dog through the park? According to Eichler we should allow ourselves more down-time to allow these bursts of inspiration to emerge. Research has shown that we need quiet time for our brains to arrive at the state of zen conducive to new ideas.

It's all in there somewhere. I just have to create the right level of nothingness to let it out.

It’s all in there somewhere. I just have to create the right state of nothingness to let it out.

I agree wholeheartedly with this philosophy. For that reason, I keep a pad and pencil on my night table and another in the map pocket of my car so I can write down these flashes of genius when they happen, or at the next red light. Fortunately I’m very good at zoning out. And to think teachers used to yell at us for not paying attention. Just think of all the earth-shattering discoveries and inventions they probably killed when we were daydreaming in school.

Multi-tasking and “busyness” are considered virtues in today’s world of 24/7 cell phones, e-mail and texting but these activities are ultimately counter-productive. Thomas Edison would regularly sit on his boat dock holding a fishing pole and line in the water, with no bait. He needed time to think. Bill Gates used to isolate himself at his cottage to free his mind for creativity. Gordon Lightfoot would check into a hotel and stay in his room for days to be free from distractions so he could write songs. And, Winston Churchill is well-known for his afternoon power naps that freed his mind from the stresses of trying to save the world from destruction.

This is my idea of being productive.

This is my idea of being productive.

When I was working, I always found the activity and noise inherent in daily office life to be distracting. My best ideas always came when I was doing some non-work-related activity. I needed my head to be free of clutter and my brain to be in a happy place to be truly productive.

So, with that in mind, please excuse me while I go take a nap. There are major world problems that need solving and I’m pretty sure I’m just on the cusp of finding the key to cold fusion—right after I summon up that Nobel-prize-worthy literature bubbling away in there somewhere. Maybe checking into a Four Seasons Hotel in Bali with the scent of fragrant blossoms and the sounds of surf outside my window would help. It certainly can’t hurt.


Leave a comment

What do you want to be?


The Beatles even wrote a song about it:  “She’s Leaving Home” and it’s one of my favourites.

When young people graduate, they are officially launched and become full-blown adults. Hopefully these two milestones occur simultaneously. But I keep reading about the stresses faced by young people in choosing their college or university career path. They demand greater support from mental health services to help them cope with the stress. How on earth is a teenager qualified to determine what he or she wants to do with the rest of their lives when they’re still coping with acne, learning the ins and outs of the opposite sex and micro-managing their social media profiles.

Even today, at the age of 70 and with more than 40 years of work experience behind me before I retired, if someone asked me what I would like to do with my life I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory answer. Sure, I’d like to edit a leading-edge women’s magazine or write best-sellers that would make me rich. But how realistic are those goals? Expecting a young person to know the answer to that question can be soul-destroying. Pick a course of study that’s too restrictive and you’re denied flexibility. Pick the flexibility of an arts degree and what are you trained for? Not an easy choice.

What complicates this decision, in my opinion, is the misguided direction to “do what you love”. I think that misleads many young people into thinking that’s the key to success. It creates false hope because it’s not always possible to earn a living and support a family when all you really enjoy is playing video games, making music or taking selfies (the Kardashians being the exception to the rule). It’s not always practical or possible to earn a living doing what you love. Aptitude may be lacking. A favourite activity may not lend itself to a sound business case. Loving writing does not mean you’re going to be a successful author. In fact, few authors are able to support themselves with their writing. The same applies to acting, art, music and even technology. Although individuals with strong technological skills have a better chance, particularly if they know how to write code. Sometimes doing what you love must be relegated to a side hustle not the full-time job.

When baby boomers were finishing high school in the late sixties and early seventies, there was not as much emphasis on post-secondary education as there is today. Most of us were never asked “What do you want to be?”. We simply left home, moved to the big city and got a job with the telephone company or an insurance company. If we were career oriented, our options were teacher, nurse or secretary. Boomer guys could work for Ontario Hydro (which in retrospect would have been the best career choice if you consider benefits and pension), become a mechanic or get a job at General Motors. Once that was accomplished, we started assembling the components of what eventually became our lives. There was no great discourse, no years of scholastic preparation, no months of consultation with parents and guidance counselors and no particular stress involved. And since most of us did not go to university, no crushing student debt.

I also worry that extensive post-secondary education may lead some to naively believe that high-paying employment automatically follows. There are many people with several degrees and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans who are unemployable. Women’s Studies and Psychology are wonderful subjects to study but a tough fit in the world of business. While all this pressure on young people to pursue multiple degrees continues, there’s a serious shortage of electricians, plumbers and tradespeople. Not everyone is well-served by attending university and there should be greater encouragement for those who opt for alternative careers. We must remember that educational institutions are still businesses that need customers so further education accompanied by its attendant debt is encouraged.

When I was still in the corporate world and in a position to hire young people, I never looked at marks applicants got in school. Other qualities such as interpersonal skills, creativity, motivation, energy and resourcefulness were more valuable in the world of business. Most of what we needed to function in the working world (with the exception of doctors, nurses, teachers and other trained professionals) we learned on the job or developed through supplementary training throughout our working lives.

In a way baby boomers were lucky. We escaped the “What do you want to be” pressure. We were happy to just have a job and personified the Bloom where you’re planted” ideology. Most often, we were happy to break free of the restrictions of living at home and get out on our own. We worked as receptionists, bank tellers, manual labourers, secretaries or salespeople when we finished school. From there, we ran with whatever we were dealt and many of us did very well in spite of our lack of education and degrees. I’m glad I’m not young anymore. I don’t think I could take the stress of deciding what I want to be. I’m so glad I’m old.

 

 


1 Comment

Help! I’ve O.D.’d on black and white


Oh dear!

At what point does safe, so-called classic dressing become just plain boring? We’ve always been told that basic black and white is a never-fail look for any occasion. It’s safe, easy to assemble and accessorize and we can be assured of never feeling self-conscious. I’ve religiously adhered to that principle for far too long and my closet now looks like a nun lives here. It’s time I kicked the “habit”. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many pairs of black pants I own, not to mention black and white blouses, tee shirts and sweaters. How many times have we shown up for lunch with girlfriends when most if not all of us are wearing some combination of black or white pants and top?

Assembling a travel wardrobe is one instance however when I think black and white is recommended. Who cares if you wear the same outfit several times? You can easily rinse out pieces in hotel sinks if they need freshening up and an assortment of colourful scarves brings a basic look to life. It makes packing easier and lighter while relieving us of wondering what to wear. Easy peasy.

Susan Street wearing pants in Malibu Punch convinced me to give it a try.

Summer should be about colour. It took some mental convincing to force myself to buy a pair of pants at Chico’s this spring in a colour called Malibu Punch which is a kind of coral-pink. Seeing them on a baby boomer fashion blog that I follow (susanafter60) persuaded me that they could work and I’m glad I bought them. And, naturally, I have a million white tops to wear with them. Now, I’m waiting for a sunflower yellow linen blazer to go on sale at J. Crew and when it does I’ll have another piece to brighten up my wardrobe and my spirits. It’ll look amazing with all those black and white pants I own as well as both dark and light skinny jeans.

As a side note, I’ve recently become a convert to Chico’s who opened stores in Canadian malls within the last couple of years. They also have a great website for online ordering. I don’t care for their entire line but some pieces are wonderful for boomers and their pants fit perfectly. Try on a few to determine your correct size as their sizes are numbered 000 (seriously?) to size 4 (comparable to XXL or size 20) with half sizes and include petites. I’m 5 ft. 3″ tall and their size 1 petite fits me perfectly. Prices are affordable and they have great sales. If you visit the United States, they have a sister company located in most major malls called SOMA which specializes in wonderful lingerie. I load up when I visit the States.

Few women wore white jeans and a black tee shirt better than Jackie Kennedy. However, lacking her innate beauty and grace, I need a bit more help. While I still lean heavily on that classic black and white look, I’m making a serious effort to brighten up my wardrobe. Summer sales are now on and I intend to change my habit and go for pink, blue, yellow and red.  Even though I know I already have far too many white tops, just the other day I scoped out a cute little sleeveless blouse I saw in the window at Massimo Dutti in the mall. Fortunately they didn’t have my size or I’d have another one to add to my collection. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I actually have some white tops in my closet that I’ve never even worn. Needs and wants are very different. Can’t resist the siren’s call.

Check out Susan Street’s fashion blog at susanafter60.

chicos.com

 


4 Comments

Sharing the joy of reading


Not in my world.

I’m a voracious reader but not a fan of book clubs; I prefer to only read what I truly enjoy and not analyze the bejeezus out of it. Reminds me too much of all those painful high school English classes with Mr. Crowther asking “what did the author mean?”. Good grief! Who but the author really knows what he or she meant. I’m just in it for the fun of reading. I have an extensive spreadsheet summarizing books I want to read—recommendations picked up from friends, The New York Times or The Globe and Mail reviews, magazine reviews and other sources. My detailed ‘To read’ chart includes?

  1. the title of the recommended book
  2. author’s name
  3. a few words describing what the book is about
  4. who or where the recommendation came from
  5. the date when I actually read the book
  6. its rating on a scale of 1-10.

I have to keep track because as soon as I finish a book and move on to the next one, I’m challenged to remember what I just read (which explains why when I was in high school in the olden days, memorizing reams of material for exams was not my forté). Does this level of tracking sound a bit excessive? There are so many books I have to cover in the short time I have left on this earth and I’m not about to waste time on something that doesn’t totally engage me and lift me up.

And she lived happily ever after.

Reading is a cheap and effective way to vicariously travel to foreign countries, experience other cultures, eavesdrop on conversations between fascinating people, engage in a plot for the downfall of a corrupt individual or organization, fall in and out of love, learn about strange events or just simply learn something new, all in the comfort of my LaZgirl. As I said in an earlier blog, the best investment I never made was my library card. What a deal.

Like most bibliophiles, I love the feel, texture and even the smell of a lovely hard-copy old-fashioned linen-covered book, but I’m also a huge fan of e-reading. I’ve gone through many iterations of e-readers and settled on the iPad mini as being my favourite digital reading device. While I’m sitting in Five Guys scarfing down forbidden french fries and Diet Coke, I can hide my face in whatever book I’m currently engrossed in. And nothing beats several books downloaded onto an e-reader for convenience when traveling.

What I like and don’t like

Historical fiction is my favourite genre but I also like:

  • autobiographies and biographies
  • books by and about strong women
  • humour (who doesn’t love David Sedaris?)
  • classical Russian literature including Tolstoy, Chekov and Dostoyevsky (go figure??)
  • some of the current best-sellers.
  • I’m a big fan of Canadian and British female writers.

With all those options, I don’t have time for what I don’t absolutely love. If I start a book and don’t love it within the first couple of chapters, then it gets tossed. This means that many books that were commercially popular or acclaimed by the literary big-wigs did not pass muster. So, when I publish a book review on BOOMERBROADcast, you can be sure it’s a book I enjoyed. There are many books I’ve attempted (sometimes multiple times) to read without success and had to abandon for various reasons:

  • Anything by Ayn Rand. Really?
  • Alice Munro is a Canadian literary goddess. But I find her books boring and tedious. Sorry. Guess I’m just not smart enough.
  • Rachel Cusk also leaves me cold. I’ve tried her Transit Trilogy books three times now, without success.
  • I’m ambivalent about Margaret Atwood. I enjoyed her early writing and Alias Grace, but couldn’t get into her dystopian trips. Although I didn’t enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it thirty years ago, I love the television series.
  • The Fifty Shades of Gray series did not make the cut. After the first few pages, I found the writing almost laughable. For those who did enjoy them, more power to you—you’re reading and enjoying yourself which is always a good thing.
  • Surrealism and sci-fi aren’t my thing so I couldn’t get past the first few pages of Harry Potter, anything by Tolkien, or the Twilight series. I’m obviously in the minority about Harry Potter but I did try and as soon as we landed on Track 13½, that was it for me. Moved on.
  • I’ve tried reading Zadie Smith without luck. After about fifty pages of NW I gave up but I may give her another try.
  • I’m very circumspect about anything recommended by Oprah as most of the books she recommends are just plain depressing. When she made a big fuss several years ago about The Secret by Rhonda Byrne I thought I’d give it a whirl because it was about positive thinking. Who couldn’t benefit from a bit of that? Most of the material was copped from other writers and mentors and I felt ripped off. Waste of time. Hated it.

Reading and writing are my two favourite activities, or more accurately, lack of activity. I’ll pick up greasy magazines in the waiting room while I’m getting my oil changed; I’m a magazine junkie. When I enter a bookstore or library I can feel my heartbeat accelerate as I’m confronted with all the marvels on those beautiful shelves. Cereal boxes, picture books, airline safety brochures—put it in front of me and I’ll give it a go. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being engrossed in a good book for hours at a stretch—one of the benefits of being retired.

My personal taste in reading is purely subjective, whittled down after years of trial and error. My friend Alice loves mysteries and fortunately the public library seems to have an endless supply so she’s all set for years to come. Valerie can’t resist a good self-help book and my father, at the age of 92 has just discovered Danielle Steele on his retirement home bookshelves and is enjoying her books. Most of my girlfriends enjoy the same kind of books I do so we trade books and titles constantly. Everyone has their own individual preference in reading material and if you enjoy the same kind of books I do, you probably enjoy my regular reviews. At least I hope you do. I’d love to hear suggestions from readers of BOOMERBROADcast in the “Comments” about books you’ve enjoyed. We’re probably on the same page so let’s share the wealth.


Leave a comment

Want to feel better about how you look?


You’re beautiful.

Who among us doesn’t look at magazines or at our own bodies in the privacy of bedroom mirrors or in retail store fitting rooms and wish we were thinner, taller or prettier. The media sets impossibly high standards for appearance and even though we know those pictures are extensively Photoshopped and otherwise altered, we can’t help feeling like we fall short. Well, we’re not short, fat or abnormal. Models are genetic freaks. We’re the normal ones. Here are some statistics that will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself:

  • Average height of Canadian women – 5 ft. 4 inches. Any woman over 5 ft. 10 inches tall is in the 97.6 height percentile. Now who’s the freak?
  • Average waist measurement for Canadian women – 35 inches. For American women it’s 37.5 inches. If you’ve ever seen the portions of nutritionally poor food they dish out in American restaurants you’ll understand why there’s a difference.
  • Average dress size – 14. For American women it’s 16-18. Are you listening retail corporate buyers?
  • Naturally blonde hair and blue eyes are genetically carried by only 17 percent of the population. Most Canadians and Americans carry the dominant brown-eyed gene with recessive blue-eyed genes declining each year.
  • Fully 90 percent of women have cellulite—including models and celebrities. It’s the product of female estrogen and cannot be eradicated. This becomes particularly evident once we are no longer teenagers.

Magazines and other forms of media have finally recognized that no one can relate to the genetic mutants featured in fashion and beauty ads. We’re now seeing mature models like Maye Musk and women with normal-sized bodies being featured in media. While it’s tempting to scream “too little, too late” we have to take whatever we can get in the battle to change perceptions of beauty. We’ve achieved a tiny slice of recognition and if we keep the pressure on advertisers and manufacturers we can turn the tide.

The challenge now is to listen to my own advice. Every time I’m tempted to be critical of some aspect of my appearance, I’ll remind myself of how blessed I really am. I’m alive. I’m healthy. I’m happy. That’s more than enough and more than many people can claim to have. You’re beautiful girlfriend and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Leave a comment

Who doesn’t love a good spy story?


There’s nothing more compelling than a great story about espionage especially when it is written by a real-life former intelligence officer who was part of the C.I.A. for more than thirty years. The movie industry thought so too and produced a movie based on the book “Red Sparrow” by Jason Matthews. Although I have not yet seen it, the movie is rarely as good as the book. Movies can never capture the nuances of the thought processes of the characters or the subtle and delicate intertwining of various plot lines that comprise a book of several hundred pages. Books are infinitely more fascinating even without special effects and big-name movie stars.

When beautiful young Dominika’s ballet career is permanently derailed by a broken foot inflicted by a jealous fellow dancer, her entire life’s plan is erased. At her father’s funeral she is approached by her Uncle Vanya, an unscrupulous General in the SVR (formerly KGB) who makes her an offer she can’t refuse. In return for becoming a special Red Sparrow agent, her mother will be able to stay in her large Moscow government apartment and their lives can proceed as comfortably as before her father’s death. Red Sparrow is the name given to Russian agents, predominantly female but including a few males, who are trained in a so-called ‘whore school’. They are schooled in the finer arts of seduction which produces agents given special assignments requiring them to elicit secrets through old-fashioned pillow talk.

Real life spies operate closer than we think.

Meanwhile, the security of Nate Nash, a young American agent stationed in Moscow is compromised and he’s forced to relocate to Helsinki. Although he’s a relatively junior agent, he is the primary liaison between the CIA and a highly placed Russian double-agent called MARBLE and the Americans want to maintain his relationship with MARBLE (who is incidentally one of the few sympathetic characters in the novel). The Russians are aware of a deep mole in their network and assign Dominika, code-named DIVA to coerce Nate into exposing the Russian traitor. Naturally, a love story develops between the two agents and the plot becomes extremely complicated.

As we work our way through the various plot lines, the reader is educated about the CIA and espionage jargon, dirty tricks and political struggles. We feel like part of the team and I started feeling rather clever when I started to put two and two together, until things didn’t add up to four. I often became impatient with the clumsiness and weakness of Nate and wanted to yell at him to smarten up. But the secondary characters were fascinating and kept me engaged. The story line is current and Vladimir Putin makes periodic fictional appearances.

In real life, the author lived and served as a foreign intelligence agent in countries around the world so he has intimate knowledge of the cities where the action unfolds. He embraces local cultures and includes descriptions of meals enjoyed by the various characters, followed by a recipe at the end of each chapter. This book is part one of a trilogy and I will no doubt be checking out the next two. As I was reading, I was blown away (but not really surprised) by the level of intrigue perpetrated by the CIA and SVR and the overwhelming degree of corruption that exists.

Red Sparrow is a hefty read but well worth it. The author’s technical knowledge is impressive and we’re constantly kept in suspense about where the story will go next. The dialogue is intelligent and at times humorous, and I’m left wondering if there really is such a thing as a Russian “whore school” for secret agents. If I ever meet Jason Matthews I’ll be sure to ask as he’s bound to know for sure. I may even check out the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, but think I’ll wait ’til it comes on television as it’ll probably be a disappointment after reading the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Red Sparrow and give it 8 out of 10.

Click here to order Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews from Amazon.