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 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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What’s with the falsies?

Oh dear!

It’s been more than four decades since I wore false eyelashes so I totally understand their current appeal. I even remember the name of the drugstore brand I preferred back then—Eyelure, applied with Andrea glue. They were long, delicate and gorgeous. Sometimes the weight of the lashes even made my eyes feel sleepy. Back then, I didn’t wear glasses but if I had to put on sunglasses, the fake lashes annoyingly brushed against the lenses leaving little wispy streaks. I became expert at running a tiny ribbon of glue along the base, waving the eyelash strip in the air a couple of times for the glue to become slightly tacky, then deftly applying it, starting in the middle and using the end of my eye-liner brush to tap them into place. Presto. No mascara, no liner required and my eyes looked like a million bucks regardless of how little sleep I’d had.

In the sixties, we all wanted to look like Twiggy or Jean Shrimpton.

What differentiates original baby boomer faux eyelash wearers from how millenials wear them now is the degree of obvious faux. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, our preference was for a glorified natural look with a dash of Twiggy. Our falsies were obviously not natural but we trimmed and groomed them before we applied them so they would look dramatic but not ridiculous. We wanted to appear starry-eyed and bright. Today’s look tends towards goth and grotesque. It doesn’t seem have occurred to current faux lash wearers to use manicure scissors to trim the inner and outer corners and perhaps texturize the tips.

I love makeup, although now it’s more flattering for our generation to employ a minimalist, natural look. When I see young women with flawless skin, I’m envious for sure. After I lecture them on the evils of smoking and exposing their skin to sun (advice I’m sure they’re thrilled to hear from a past-her-prime old boomer broad), I compliment them and suggest they take care of their gift. But I find it hard to keep my mouth shut about the state of their false eyelashes. Are they meant to resemble an industrial strength car-wash brush?

Much better.

Am I so out-of-date that I don’t get the current craze for bear bristles? When I stand in front of the checkout clerk at the grocery store whose false eyelashes resemble a golf-shoe scraper, I can’t stop staring, wondering how on earth she could possibly think they look attractive for everyday wear. As I said, I’m a fan of faux lashes, but like any fashion accessory, it’s important to learn how to wear them properly and save the drag queen lashes for professional entertainers. In the sixties an advertising slogan asked “Does she or doesn’t she?” It was considered preferable to keep ’em guessing while looking great. Or, perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste and I’m the weird one.

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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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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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