NO! I definitely do not need my ducts cleaned.

Those annoying telemarketers give the entire industry a bad reputation.


Does anyone know how to stop those infernal, annoying, never-ending calls from telemarketers trying to sell me duct-cleaning services? It’s been going on for years and they nail me anywhere at any time. I was sitting in the hairdressers yesterday and ring…ring…ring. I rarely use my cellphone so when it rings it’s always my husband. Not this time. After fumbling in my purse, digging out my phone from the bottom layer of purse detritus and trying to figure out how to turn it on to take an incoming call, only to hear . . .  “This is XYZ Duct-Cleaning Services calling . . . “

The other day I was pickling beets in the kitchen. Just as the sticky mixture of cider vinegar and sugar came to a boil on the stove, the phone rang, and once again – duct cleaners. They interrupted me just long enough for the sugary vinegar mixture to boil over on the stove . . . and there aren’t words to describe the mess it created, not to mention the stream of bad-swears uttered in anger and frustration. For the record, a boiling mixture of cider vinegar and sugar turns hard as titanium when it erupts like a volcano from the pan and hits a flat surface. Or a vertical surface like the front of the stove. Or the floor. You get the picture.

Is it still illegal to put out a contract on telemarketers?

Even though I’m on a Do-Not-Call list for telemarketers (which obviously is not effective), I have a variety of responses when they do call. It ranges from a simple hang-up to screaming at them, informing them I have radiators, not ducts (a lie), yelling at them to never call me again, and ordering them to take me off their call list. Nothing works. They’re as persistent as . . . well, telemarketers selling duct-cleaning services. Our neighbour told me that when she informed them she didn’t have ducts, they insisted she did! What’s a girl to do?

They interrupt meals; they interrupt my favourite tv shows; they interrupt my entire life. I can’t imagine these calls generate enough sales to even pay the minimum-wage earners who place the calls, with a little robo-help, of course. I’ve considered recording the number they’re calling from and blocking it, but the number isn’t always the same. Sometimes it’s a 289 area code; sometimes it’s 416; other times it’s 905 or 647, or the ubiquitous 800 or 866. I don’t know who’s calling until I pick it up and hear that familiar, dreaded pause before the spiel.

It seems self-defeating and counter-productive to have to disconnect my home phone and cell just to avoid the telemarketers but extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. Too bad there wasn’t some kind of tear gas that we could release through the telephone lines to temporarily disable them. If you have any suggestions, send them my way. I’m desperate. Even illegal measures will be seriously considered. The greater question that now remains is who should I call when I actually do need my ducts cleaned?



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Maud Lewis’s artwork lights up the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg

Art speaks to me or it doesn’t. My tastes are not sophisticated, informed or educated. When I see a painting or piece of art that uplifts me or makes me feel happy, I like it. It’s that simple. Which is why I don’t like winter scenes, paintings of crowded city streets on rainy days or industrial landscapes. I’ll never appreciate abstract art because I just don’t get it.

Canadian primitive folk artist Maud Lewis’s paintings make me smile, fill my heart and give me hope, so naturally, I love her work. Everyone’s personal taste in art is highly subjective; we instinctively know what we like and what we do not like. And since I can’t afford to own her original work, I’m happy to purchase several calendars each year that feature her art, for myself and for gifting to friends.

The McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg houses Canadian art in a park-like natural setting north of Toronto.

The McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg north of Toronto is most famous for its Canadian Group of Seven artists but regularly features other artists worth going to see. From now until the end of the year, the work of Maud Lewis is on exhibit and I absolutely could not miss the opportunity to see so many of her original paintings on display. For anyone who is not familiar with Maud Lewis, then I highly recommend seeing the 2016 movie about her life, “Maudie” starring Ethan Hawke as her husband, Everett, and Sally Hawkins as Maud. It’s accurate and wonderful to watch.

Maud Lewis sold paintings from her rural cabin in Digby, Nova Scotia.

Born in 1903, Maud Lewis was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis from a young age. When she was no longer able to live with her aunt and forced to go out into the world and fend for herself as a young woman, she applied for a job as a housekeeper for Everett Lewis, a bachelor who lived in rural Digby, Nova Scotia. To her shock and dismay, his home was a tiny 100 sq. ft. rural cabin without running water, electricity or plumbing. They eventually married but Maud’s life was never easy. She passed away from pneumonia in 1970. After Everett died, their cabin was dismantled and reinstalled inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. When I visited it in the 1980s, I was struck by how small it was. Despite this, her love of painting was evident on the walls, trim and front door.

Bloom where you’re planted

Despite the hardships, she blossomed when she picked up a paintbrush and started decorating the walls, furniture, and the door of their tiny cabin. Soon, she was painting cards, scraps of wood and old boards and selling her paintings for anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars. Word of Maud’s beautiful paintings spread and her popularity grew but during her lifetime, she never enjoyed commercial or economic success, despite famous people like Richard Nixon owning her work.

Maud’s paintings of life in rural Nova Scotia were done in strong primary colours and always featured happy, optimistic scenes. She painted local life, often employing artistic license to enhance the joyfulness. Evergreen trees were adorned with blossoms, oxen had happy faces, cats were the picture of beauty and contentment and the people in her paintings were always depicted in happy activities. It’s as if she were living a parallel life through her paintings. She’s the literal personification of the expression “Bloom where you’re planted”.

My friend Gail at the entrance to the McMichael Art Gallery grounds.

When my gal pals and I visited the McMichael Gallery we were blown away as soon as we approached the gate which featured a huge reproduction of one her of happy paintings of white cats. The gallery is located in many acres of natural beauty, wooded pathways and ravines surrounding log structures housing the galleries. It’s a bounty of beauty from beginning to end. The Maud Lewis show itself included more than one hundred pieces, far more than I anticipated. Many came from private collections that had been generously loaned for the exhibition.

Janet Nungnik’s Inuit textile art was a wonderful surprise and a bonus.

We spent an amazing afternoon walking through the gallery enjoying not only the work of Maud Lewis but others as well. There was a concurrent show of beautiful Inuit textile art by Janet Nungnik depicting life in Canada’s north. Many of my friends are crafters and artists so we always enjoy seeing what other people create. The last show at the McMichael that I saw featured Quebec artist Marc Aurele Fortin. His depictions of rural scenes with giant elm trees touch me to my core.

If you’ve never been to the McMichael Gallery, I strongly suggest you do so and if you’re a fan of Maud Lewis, now is the perfect opportunity. You still have five months to see this particular exhibit and prepare to be delighted. I guarantee as you leave through the winding road through the woods, you will have a smile on your face and happiness in your heart.

If you can’t make it, be sure to take advantage of the books available. They’d make a wonderful gift for yourself or a friend.

To order a hard cover copy of PAINTINGS FOR SALE, the story of Maud Lewis and her work, from Amazon, click on the image.
To order a copy of the paperback book, CAPTURING JOY, The Story of Maud Lewis, from Amazon, click the image.

Disclosure: If you order a copy of either of these books from Amazon, you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.

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Disappearing Earth offers a peek into everyday life in a remote Russian community

Certain books appeal to me for their ability to transport me to another place, another culture or another time that I would never otherwise have the opportunity to experience. That’s what appealed to me about Disappearing Earth, a novel by Julia Phillips. It’s set in Kamchatka, a remote peninsula extending south from the eastern coast of Siberia in Russia. It’s a contemporary story about the abduction of two young sisters, 8-year-old Sophia and 12-year-old Alyona on a warm August day. This crime is the unifying thread that ties a wide variety of characters together as communities and individuals attempt to solve the mystery of their disappearance.

The police provide more thorough searches and investigations into the missing ‘white’ Russian girls while a young indigenous girl who has been missing for four years receives none of the same attention and consideration. Sound familiar? Are the abductions related? Are the girls alive or dead? What happened to each of them? We’re confronted with the anguish of the mothers of these girls and see how important their participation in the investigation affects the outcomes.

The plot unfolds like a series of short stories. Each chapter is a snapshot of a group of characters whose relevance and interrelationships don’t become evident until the end of the story. I found this approach to story-telling to be a bit confusing and with more than forty characters to keep track of, it was a bit overwhelming at times. Despite this, I loved the story and kept ploughing through.

What particularly fascinated me about this book was the glimpse into the lives of a mixture of ‘white’ Russians and people indigenous to the area. It’s a cultural crossover shared by Canadians with our own indigenous people and there are many parallels to be drawn. There’s a certain amount of racism by the Russians toward the original people and the author is careful to treat both sides with respect. We’re introduced to interesting insights into the traditional lives of indigenous people in the remote northeast of the Asian continent. In the context of modern life this includes cell phones, traffic circles, social problems and local customs.

Disappearing Earth was recommended for summer reading in the July issue of Oprah magazine. I’m often reluctant to read her recommendations as they tend to be dark and depressing. This book, however, was gripping and even a bit educational. It can be hard work at times wading through the parallel lives of all the characters but it’s worth it in the end. You’ll learn a lot about contemporary Russia with its lingering communist influence, through the daily lives of the characters. I found it hard to put the book down and for this reason, I think Disappearing Earth rates 7 out of 10.

To order DISAPPEARING EARTH from Amazon, click here.
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A rose by any other name wins by a nose

Scents touch a special chord, not only in our olfactory systems but also in our hearts and in our brains. We all can relate to a certain scent transporting us to another time and place. It’s a magical transformation. The smell of certain things baking in the oven may take us back to our mothers’ or grandmothers’ kitchens. Being near water may remind us of all those carefree days as children swimming in the lake or nearby river every summer. The fragrance of certain perfumes may transport us to memories of loved ones and ones we’ve loved. Whenever I open my late mother’s jewelry box, the lingering scent evokes the inside of her house and memories come flooding back. Sometimes, people who have lost a special person, keep a bathrobe or favourite sweater that carries the scent of that person, to provide comfort.

Ever since the days of owning a single bottle of (cheap) Evening in Paris cologne purchased at the local five and dime store and proudly displayed on my bedroom dresser when I was a teenager, I’ve been charmed and affected by fragrance. I love the different moods each one presents. I adore the beautiful bottles. I feel so feminine and uplifted when I spritz myself each morning. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a sizeable collection and even though many, if not most of my bottles are probably past their best-before date, I cannot part with them.

When I first started working for Bell Telephone on University Avenue in Toronto in 1965, my girlfriend and I used to go into the drugstore behind our office building on our lunch hour and spray ourselves with generous quantities of expensive perfumes we couldn’t afford to buy on our clerk-typist wages. White Shoulders and L’air du Temps were always favourites. I’m sure there were many days when we came back into the office after lunch nearly asphyxiating our coworkers after we’d doused ourselves in lilac or lily of the valley perfumes of questionable quality. As they say, ‘those were the days, my friend’.

I was the in-store representative for Yardley of London at Eatons’ College Street Store in 1970.

There was a time in the ’80s when blooming boomers were encouraged to adopt a ‘signature scent’. Offices were awash in Opium, Red Door, Obsession, and Poison. One of the girls in my office came to work every day drenched in Cartier’s expensive La Panthère. I’ve never been able to limit myself to just one fragrance. Some days I’m in the mood for floral; other days I lean toward citrus or spicey. Does anyone remember wearing Shalimar or Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew in the ’60s? Or Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass? We were so sophisticated. When I worked in Eaton’s College Street store’s cosmetics department in 1970, we had people who came in purposely to buy giant bottles of 4711. We also sold a lot of Jean Naté, Yardley’s Lavender and Chantilly in the pink bottle. Remember them?

My favourite fragrance is called Émilie by French perfumier Fragonard. Émilie is a blend that includes my favourite flowers, rose, and jasmine. I first experienced this fragrance in 2012 when I toured southern France with a group of ladies guided by decorating and style guru Kimberley Seldon. We toured the Fragonard factory in Grasse, France where we were able to see how they gather the blooms, then distill and manufacture the various fragrances according to which flowers are in season. I also once toured a small, second-floor perfume museum near the Opera House in Paris and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

After I originally purchased a tiny atomizer of Fragonard’s Émilie and it turned out to be so amazingly beautiful, I went to the internet the following year to order more. A few weeks later, to my great delight, a more substantial bottle arrived in the mail, all the way from France. Sometime later, however, I was disappointed to receive a notice from them that they would no longer be able to send it to me as postal regulations forbid certain chemicals and liquids being sent by mail. I guess I’ll just have to fly to France to restock. It’s available on Amazon from third-party sellers but I’ve never ordered from them so I can’t vouch for their authenticity. I did manage to pick up another bottle a couple of years ago when I was In France which should last me long after I go to the ‘home’. I only hope my fellow residents will enjoy it as much as I do—cough, cough.

Visiting Fragonard’s perfume factory in Grasse, France was a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

What seems to distinguish the Fragonard perfume from so many (and there are soooo many) available on the market today, is the purity of the fragrance. Perhaps it’s just me, but whenever I try a sample of some new fragrance being launched, I find it inevitably leaves an unpleasant chemical smell on my skin, not the clear floral fragrance I’m looking for. So many perfumes today, even from the major perfume houses, contain so many synthetic ingredients that they all smell the same. And, as we all know, each one reacts differently with our individual body chemistry. Chanel No. 5 always smells like ginger ale on me while it’s divine on a friend of mine.

One day when I was in the Hudson’s Bay store’s perfume department, a customer produced a small gold atomizer like the Fragonard one I bought in France, asking the sales associate to find something similar. Her daughter had bought it for her, also in France, and she wanted to replicate it. ‘Good luck’, I thought, as I meandered off. I once read somewhere that Michelle Obama wears Cartier’s Délice which has a delicate cherry essence. I couldn’t get myself off fast enough to Holt Renfrew to spritz myself from the tester, hoping to capture just a tiny bit of her essence.

Even the scent of sheets dried outside in the fresh air is enough to send me into paroxysms of bliss. A whiff of fresh spruce can return me to the Christmas trees in my childhood home. Does the smell of wood smoke remind you of summer camping trips? The smell of Neutrogena soap always puts me in the hands of Dr. Cornish, an old dentist I had fifty years ago, in the days when dentists didn’t wear latex gloves, just washing their hands for every new patient. The unique scent of old-fashioned ivory soap reminds me of time spent as a child at a friend’s cottage.

Is there such a thing as too much fragrance? 

Perhaps my aging nose has lost some of its sensitivity as the years go by. As my sense of smell diminishes, I pity the people fainting in my wake as I stroll down the street in a suffocating cloud of my floral scent du jour, oblivious to those with allergies or an aversion to fragrance. I absolutely adore fragrance and will never stop wearing it. For whatever effect scent has on our brains and hearts, I’m not going to deny myself.

Are you a fragrance aficionado like me? What’s your favourite and what memories does it evoke?

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Japanese occupation of Singapore still resonates today

Every so often we read a book that gives us a renewed appreciation for when and where we were born. That’s what struck me the most after reading How We Disappeareda novel by Jing-Jing Lee. I’ve always felt I won the lottery being born in Canada as a baby boomer after the end of the Second World War. Growing up in a free country that offers so many opportunities and privileges as well as a comfortable standard of living is truly a gift.

The main character of this book, Wang Di was not so lucky. Born to Chinese parents in Singapore, she was only seventeen years old when the Japanese defeated the British and occupied the tiny island. While its citizens were shocked and devastated that the British were unable to protect them, they braced for changes that went far beyond anything they could have anticipated. Not only did the Japanese soldiers conduct regular raids of private homes and businesses to confiscate food and personal belongings, they soon took away their young daughters who were recruited to serve as ‘comfort women’, servicing Japanese soldiers in make-shift brothels.

Wang Di’s story is a composite of thousands of similar stories experienced by women in China, Malaysia and Korea who were subjected to brutal treatment, starvation rations and moral humiliation at the hands of the Japanese for several years. The women’s lives were treated as disposable and if they were no longer able to work due to illness or if they tried to escape, they were simply shot and replaced by someone else.

During her incarceration by the Japanese, Wang Di barely survived. Servicing between 30 and 50 soldiers every day for the duration of her three-year ordeal, she witnessed humanity at its worst, interspersed with tiny, infrequent acts of kindness. She witnessed death, deprivation, and brutality, all the while knowing that she would never be able to return to the normal life she had before she was captured. Knowing her future life would be worthless, she often considered death as a viable option.

Ordinarily, I prefer to read a book with the plot unfolding in chronological order but in this case, the author’s switching back and forth between Wang Di telling her own story in the first person and the voice of 12-year-old Kevin many years later is a welcome relief. As a reader, I needed the emotional break from Wang Di’s heartbreaking story when Kevin’s voice takes over. Kevin is researching his family history more than sixty years later, after listening to his grandmother’s mysterious deathbed confession.

After his grandmother dies, Kevin discovers a series of unposted letters in her personal belongings. Written to an unknown person many decades earlier, they reveal a secret she held but never revealed and Kevin sets about trying to uncover what she had been concealing throughout her lifetime and how her secret related to his family. When Kevin starts putting the pieces of his family history together, all the disparate pieces of the story come together and not quite as I expected. It was easy to make assumptions about how the plot would develop but the author cleverly baits us and then presents something unexpected.

Tragic and heartbreaking as the story is, I could not put it down. We’re given rare insights into the daily lives of the poorer citizens of Singapore during the time of the Japanese occupation. In a colony of blended cultures and nationalities, it’s fascinating to read about how the people lived, worked, what they hoped for and what they believed in. Based on historical truths, the story is shocking and fascinating. Without giving away too much, I will tell you that it has a happy ending which is a welcome relief after reading about such a tragedy. I’d rate Jing-Jing Lee’s How We Disappeared 8.5 out of 10. 

To order HOW WE DISAPPEARED by Jing-Jing Lee from Amazon, click on image.
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When you’re retired, every day is Saturday

Productivity is a relative term.

Type A personality types who must be constantly busy and productive must also be constantly exhausted. Or maybe I just wish that so I don’t feel guilty about not being as virtuous as they are. Much as I wish I could be like them, that’s not the way I was engineered. My mother had to register me in morning kindergarten so I could nap in the afternoons and unfortunately, the habit stuck. I still love to nap in the afternoons. It was inconvenient when I was working (!!) but now that I’m retired I am free to do—not entirely without guilt but it helps if no one else is home to make me feel like I should be doing something productive. I guess I’d describe myself as Type D-minus. Having nothing on my agenda and lots of time to devote to it is my idea of a perfect day.

Life wasn’t always a week of Saturdays which is why I appreciate retirement so much. During all those years of getting up in the dark, driving to work in the dark, driving home in the dark, preparing a meal, doing chores and never getting enough sleep I only dreamed of the schedule I enjoy today. Sometimes at work, I’d be so totally exhausted I’d feel like my head was going to thump down on my desk. It was everything I could do to keep my eyelids from slamming shut. Sleep deprivation is a common affliction among working people and we’re made to feel guilty if we aren’t giving our jobs one hundred and ten percent. I think millennials have turned their backs on that attitude, which is another topic for another day. It was different for boomers and even more so for our parents, The Greatest Generation.

Retirement has afforded me the time to be my own boss—a well-earned luxury and a privilege. Spending a day in my own home doing whatever I want is a complete and utter joy. Most of the time I don’t even put the radio on as the news or a talk show that focuses on political or social conflicts only spoils my tranquility. Daytime television is verboten unless I have a pile of ironing to do. Then, I set up the ironing board in the living room and iron while I watch one of my favourite PVR’d shows. I read voraciously; I compose my rants for Boomerbroadcast; I sit in the yard; go for a walk; putter about the house; generally I live my best life.

One of the most pleasurable uses of our time.

That’s not to say I’m anti-social or inactive. Not at all. Lunches with girlfriends are great fun. We now have the time and energy required for entertaining at home from time to time. Attending seminars on subjects of personal interest, visiting friends and indulging in hobbies are all part of retirement life. Even having the luxury of being able to go grocery shopping on a quiet Tuesday morning is an utter joy. There are always new sights in the city to see, new movies to check out or author readings to attend. Many boomers are dedicated volunteers, contributing generous, unpaid hours to various community services.

But there’s nothing quite as delicious as a day chez moi. Too many of those days would, of course, be sad but that’s not what we’re talking about. I’ve spent considerable time and a little bit of money getting my home to be a place of complete comfort and joy. My boomer gal pals have also created colourful, creatively decorated homes that they too enjoy and enjoy sharing with friends. We’re nesting and loving it.

Now that I’m in my 70s (Yeoww! That number still blows my mind), I’ve become philosophical about my time left. It could be 20 years, which will fly by far too quickly, or it could be 20 minutes. As we’ve watched some of our friends cope with illness and others pass away, we have a greater appreciation for the time we’re enjoying now. Every day is truly a gift, wherever and however I choose to spend it. And for that, I am truly grateful. How do you spend your days of eternal Saturdays?

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