BOOMERBROADcast

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


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How much can a parent withstand?


On October 10th I was honoured to be a guest speaker on The Joy of Retirement at an alumni luncheon for former employees of Coca-Cola Canada Ltd. in Toronto. I was preceded by a former employee of Coca-Cola, Debbie Sands, who had written a book about her family’s challenges with their second daughter, Amy. A Moth To The Flame is the story of Amy’s struggles with what was most likely Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness that Amy seemed to display from the time she was a baby but went undiagnosed.

How does a parent cope when they do all the right things and their best efforts are met with extreme anger, defiance, antisocial and destructive behaviours? How could a beautiful little baby grow into such a troubled adult? Debbie Sands and her husband Ed struggled with these questions from the time Amy was born until she died tragically at the age of 27. And they still struggle with the what ifs, hows and whys.

Amy Sands was a sweet baby but prone to unprovoked and intense temper tantrums. She would have periods of calm but they were only temporary and as she grew, the problems also grew. In elementary school she was bullied for being overweight. A couple of years in a closely monitored private school helped but when she returned to the public system, the wheels fell off. Before long she was running with the wild crowd, neglecting her school work and despite being bright, funny and talented in music and dance, the demons ruled.

Before she finished high school, Amy was involved in drugs, drinking and assorted antisocial behaviours. She had also blossomed into a beautiful young woman with little resemblance to the awkward young girl she had once been. With her family’s support she managed to graduate high school but because of her self-destructive habits was unable to hold down a job or attend college successfully. She was a pathological liar who turned her accusers into enemies and was soon involved in a series of abusive relationships and criminal activity.

Debbie Sands was constantly searching for answers and solutions to work through her daughter’s problems. She read books, consulted with teachers, other parents and tried every resource at her disposal to try and help Amy live a normal life. Naturally, Amy’s aberrant behaviour affected the entire family including an older daughter, Stephanie and a younger brother, Michael. All the love in the world can’t fix certain problems. As parents, Debbie and Ed Sands expended extraordinary amounts of time, emotional energy and money trying to help Amy function in a normal way. But she fought, defied and abused them constantly, only to retreat, apologize, then begin the whole cycle over again.

After hearing Debbie’s presentation at the Coca-Cola luncheon I thought I was familiar enough with Amy’s story that I didn’t need to read the book, but when I picked it up one evening and started reading I couldn’t put it down. It’s educational, heartbreaking and yet redemptive, a must read for any parent who is having trouble with a son or daughter who has fallen off the rails.

The panelists on CTV’s The Social recently discussed a 13-year-old boy who had been an ongoing problem for his parents. He’d stolen the family car (not the first time) to go visit his girlfriend, after first disengaging the home security system and internet/phone system. His mother was criticized for taking his bedroom door off its hinges, grounding him indefinitely and actually taking off her belt to hit him when she caught up with him. While it’s tempting to condemn her for using physical force, it’s easy to understand her frustration and lack of options. This was not an isolated incident and parents of difficult teens are frequently stretched beyond normal boundaries.

Mental illness is chronically under-diagnosed in many young people and parents are often unaware of the root of the problem and the resources available to help families with these struggles. I commend Debbie Sands for writing this book and encourage you to read it or pick it up for someone you know who has similar problems in their family. It has already helped parents with daughters like Amy and will not doubt resonate with others who read it in the future.

To order A Moth To The Flame by Debbie Sands from Amazon, click here.

 


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How to hamper those Halloween pantry raids


You know what it’s like. Every year we pick up Halloween treats from the grocery store, usually two or three weeks before the big night and for some reason the supply mysteriously evaporates before October 31st even arrives. This strange phenomenon is particularly puzzling when it’s something you like. Boxes of Smarties, tiny Mars Bars and potato chips are highly vulnerable while raisins usually remain safely stacked in the pantry.

We have to be so careful about what we dispense these days. When we were kids, the best treats were the always the home-made ones—sugary maple walnut or chocolate fudge, taffy and peanut butter cookies were freely passed out in little orange and black paper bags with witches on them. Our closest neighbours used to pack “special” bags for us “special” kids who lived next door and they were always the best. Now everything has to be commercially sealed and inspected for tampering before being consumed. It’s amazing we survived.

Every year I’m never sure how many kids we’ll get at our door but I plan and hope for plenty as I love seeing the little ones stuffed into their costumes stretched over winter parkas and toques. We live at the end of a dead-end courtyard and are very tricky to find, despite leaving all the outside lights and illuminated pumpkins on. Last year we had only two visitors; one little boy from two doors down and another little 3 ft. superhero of indeterminate gender. I’d stocked up on chips and chocolate bars, then at the last minute sent my husband out to buy red licorice—just in case there was an unexpected deluge.

The bottom line, to my everlasting shame is that last year I ate 90 little bags of red licorice during the first few days of November, all by myself. How else was I supposed to get rid of them? Consign them to landfill? Then, at lunch the other day, my friend Deb made an innocent comment which is a brilliant solution to the annual problem of preventing the inevitable evaporation of treats before the big night, and how to dispose of Halloween candy afterward.

JUST BUY WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE!

Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? One of the guys I used to work with was mortified every Halloween when he was a little boy because his dentist father handed out toothbrushes to his trick or treating friends, and their house inevitably got egged. That’s one approach.

Or, I could distribute sealed bags of kale chips or packets of hand sanitizers. Even stickers might work but I’m afraid of my home being egged if I gave out something like pencils or pens. I’d be happy with that but kids today are far more affluent, more discriminating and not as happy with any old thing as we boomers were. And furthermore, I’ve already stocked up on Smarties and little chocolate bars. Maybe I could eat the Smarties and chocolate immediately (for the sake of the children, of course ) and replace this year’s handouts of candy with recipe cards. Parents and their little ones could then make their own politically correct, nut-free, non-GMO’d, gluten-free, fair trade chocolate treats. Heaven knows, I’ll never use the recipes. And, hold the eggs!


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White Teeth are regular characters in Zadie Smith’s British romp


British author Zadie Smith is not everyone’s cup of tea. I gave up on her novel NW after several tries (thought it was an absolute mess) but I enjoyed Swing Time. I was in a bit of a reading dry spell waiting for several books to become available at the library so I decided to have a go at Smith’s first novel, White Teeth. It’s the multi-layered story of three generations of immigrants living in Birmingham, trying to cope with blending old country cultures and values with their new life in England.

Story lines are built around Archie Jones and Samad Iqbad who first met during World War II when they were both serving in Greece. Working class Archie from Birmingham and Muslim Sammy from Bangladesh bond over a moral dilemma during the war and when Sammy immigrates to England he naturally seeks out his old army buddy Archie. Sammy meets his young bride Alsana on the morning of his arranged marriage and they set up house in London near Archie who is now married to his second wife, a much younger Jamaican girl by the name of Clara, daughter of a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

While Alsana doesn’t think she has anything in common with Clara, they find themselves both pregnant at the same time and soon become friends. The British-born second generation of the two families is when the real fun starts. Archie and Clara’s daughter Irie is slightly less peculiar than her mother, the lapsed Jehovah’s Witness. Sammy and Alsana’s identical twin sons are opposite in personality which causes no end of anguish for their parents, particularly Sammy who vainly wishes them to be traditional and devout Muslims.

Author Zadie Smith.

The book is written in a somewhat satirical style and Zadie Smith has a brilliant ear for local slang and contemporary teenage dialogue. I could so easily picture the conversations and conflicts that transpire between the parents, their offspring and the other colourful characters in the story. She beautifully articulates the Caribbean patois of Clara’s religious mother Hortense, who grew up in Jamaica, with brilliant tongue-in-cheek exchanges between Hortense and her granddaughter Irie. Sammy’s wife Alsana is one of the most interesting characters and I would have liked to see more of her. She’s opinionated, has a temper and is unpredictable.

I really enjoyed White Teeth. For something different and a taste of satire, give it a whirl. I’d rate this book 8 out of 10.

Click here to order White Teeth by Zadie Smith from Amazon.


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Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 describes . . . the horror . . . the horror


As if we weren’t frightened enough already by what’s happening south of the border, Michael Moore just added the finishing touches with his current documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 which is now showing in movie theatres. (Coincidently, I’m also currently reading FEAR by Bob Woodward.) Call me a masochist but watching the fall of the United States of America is fascinating and tragically sad at the same time. We knew when we went to see Fahrenheit 11/9, written, produced and directed by Moore, that it would be an unsettling experience and our worst fears were realized.

The breakdown of American society and the corruption of their democratic system are sad to witness. Most of the movie’s content is predictable—how on earth did someone like Donald Trump ever get elected and what does the future hold? Moore spares no one in his condemnation of politicians. Both the Republican and Democrat parties are rotten within, to the extent that Democratic party big-wigs cheated Bernie Saunders out of winning certain states by falsifying the voting results to put third-place Hillary in the lead.

Understandably, a great of time is devoted to the tragedy of the water system in Flint, Michigan, Moore’s home town. It’s a metaphor for greater social problems. Citizens are being exposed to permanent, irreversible health problems as a result of drinking polluted water with a high lead content, something that was totally preventable, fixable and still remains unfixed. Even President Obama was complicit. When he visited Flint, a largely black community, the locals thought that finally they would get their water source rerouted from the Flint River to its original safe source, Lake Huron. They were expecting acknowledgement of their problem, help from FEMA and a return to clean water. Obama even pretended to drink the water, smiled, shook hands with the locals, flew off in Airforce 1—and nothing changed. That lack of action and casting aside of their concerns left the people of Flint feeling defeated. As a result, they realize their legitimate concerns fell on deaf ears and their votes are meaningless.

Undervalued teachers in the United States make less than half what Canadian teachers make. Many live below the poverty line. They had to break with their union and strike for health insurance.

The explanation of the teachers’ strike in various states starting with West Virginia was particularly enlightening. Teachers’ wages are below the poverty level in many American states (very different from Canada) and when they were on strike the teachers still had food drives and delivered meals to children at home who receive their breakfast and lunch every day through the schools. Otherwise, those children would go hungry. In order for teachers to receive any kind of health insurance, they were required by contract to wear FitBits to confirm they were getting in 10,000 steps a day. This punitive decree was signed into law through the collaboration of a weak union and a fat, old, white-guy governor who probably has never walked 10,000 steps in his life.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a followup to Moore’s earlier Fahrenheit 9/11 and a riff on November 9th, the day Trump was elected. Moore equates that day with a disaster for America right up there with 9/11. He takes a lot of criticism for his extremism and sensationalism but we need people to draw attention to what’s going on. It’s a disturbing movie but an absolute must-see. No one benefits when everyone looks away and assumes good will prevail. Just ask any German who lived through the 1930s and 1940s.

On the bright side, the surge of indignation and anger over the state of democracy in the United States has prompted many formerly passive, intelligent side liners—a great many of them women—to become involved in the nasty business of politics in an effort to get things back on track. It worked in Iceland where the women took over and got the country sorted out. Hopefully they can put an end to this horror show before it’s too late and the apocalypse occurs.

We caught a matinée and it was reassuring to see so many single boomers in the theatre. The subject matter obviously resonates and they took the time to go see and support Michael Moore’s documentary. I hope you do too.


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Have Baby Boomers gone to ground?


Driving at night is no longer as simple as it used to be.

There was a time when I simply couldn’t understand why my parents’ generation didn’t like to drive after dark, or why they preferred to stay home and sleep in their own beds. Look at all they were missing—nights on the town, travel and weekends away with friends. Then, I totally got the driving after dark thing a few years ago when I found my eyesight was just not as sharp as it used to be when I went out at night. The solution was to plan our nights out carefully so we didn’t have to drive too far, if at all. That was the first step on a slippery slope.

I’m now developing a greater appreciation for sleeping in my own bed. Much as we love traveling, nothing’s sweeter than crawling into our own bed when we get home. We just returned from a few days visiting Washington, D.C. for some sightseeing and our room at the Hyatt Regency couldn’t have been better. They’d spent the last four years renovating the hotel and everything was perfection. The elevators in the lobby atrium were glass so we could experience our ascent and descent; the furniture and decor was all fresh and new; the bathroom was large and well-appointed and the floor was slightly heated which felt wonderful on our sore feet after a day of walking miles. The sheets were smooth and delicious to slide into at the end of the day. The pillows felt like down and there were four of them. Even the television was huge, just like at home which pleased my honey enormously. Despite these comforts, it was so good to get home.

Air travel comes with its own special set of horrors which make overseas travel particularly gruesome. If one of the unions hasn’t declared a last minute work-to-rule or full-on strike, then weather delays keep us stewing in the airport holding area for hours on end. If we do manage to get on our flight at the scheduled time and we can’t afford to fly business class with the elite, then we’re jammed into teeny tiny seats with our knees touching our chins while munching dry ham and cheese “snacks”. Who among us hasn’t been trapped on a full plane upon arrival awaiting jetway clearance or waiting for the lightning to stop before we can disembark.

There’s no place like home.

Americans are known and (rightly) mocked for insisting on American food (burgers and fries) when traveling in Europe, but I always take a zip-lock baggie of my own Canadian brand of Red Rose tea when we travel, so who am I to judge. We like things that are familiar and this trait only becomes more entrenched as we get older. That’s not to say we don’t like some adventure and travel, but we’re starting to feel the impact of being away from our home comforts. This insight has made me much more understanding of my parents’ preference for staying home and not visiting me in their later years.

Even staying overnight with close friends can be fraught with challenges. There’s a hilarious sketch on Baroness von Sketch on CBC that pokes fun at the numerous rules imposed by cottage owners on their weekend guests. “Don’t flush. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. No shampoo allowed; it causes algae. Keep the door shut to keep the blackflies out.” And the list goes on. Just makes you want to be in your own home, in your own bed, with your own bathroom on familiar ground. We all try to make our visiting guests feel at home when they come to stay and go out of our way to provide hotel-like amenities but we know from experience that there’s no place like home. And the older we get, the sweeter it is.

Click here to view “The Cottage” by Baroness von Sketch on YouTube.


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Is your clean house making you fat?


Every time I come across a new angle or theory on the science of weight loss, I get a little excited thinking maybe there’s some minor tweak I can make with minimal effort in my lifestyle that will give me back the body I took for granted in my twenties. The business of weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry built around feeding our insecurities about how we look. The health and wellness industries throw out the bait and reel us in.

It’s not complicated. We’re a privileged society. There’s so much food available, much of which is unhealthy, that we overeat and don’t work it off. Menopause throws the final wrench in the works making it impossible to stay trim without constant effort and vigilance. University students are familiar with the freshman fifteen (pounds) just as boomer women are familiar with the meno fifteen . . . or twenty, or thirty that happens when we hit fifty-ish. Four years ago I spent an entire winter attending Weight Watchers, losing ten pounds, only to put it back on again. I’m lucky compared to those who work harder to lose even more and pack it all back on. We spend an inordinate amount of time, money and emotional energy on weight issues. What a waste of resources.

We’re so brainwashed about the evils of consuming carbs that enjoying a simple piece of toast with jam can bring on paroxysms of guilt and shame. I love ACE bread and only allow myself to enjoy it toasted for breakfast as a treat on weekends. Living on vegetables and protein alone is never going to work. I try not bring things like ice-cream and cookies into the house, but sometimes a gal’s just gotta have a hot dog. But, as we all know, cheating is a slippery slope. As soon as bread is declared an all-inclusive health food I’m going to eat nothing but toast a least three times a day, for the rest of my life. In the fickle world of health advice, it is a possibility. I keep hoping.

Could this be making me fat?

Then, a few days ago I read in the newspaper that household cleaners have been proven to affect the gut flora in children. When small children are exposed to high levels of the chemicals in cleaning fluids, the good gut microbes are lowered. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the gut flora of 757 infants and children up to three years old exposed to cleaning chemicals resulted in higher BMI (body mass index) readings than those exposed to ecofriendly cleaners.

Naturally, this information leads me to conclude (not scientifically, of course) that the reason I’m overweight is because I’ve been exposed to too many chemical cleaning products for more than 70 years. So, that knowledge combined with the inevitable, irreversible menopause fifteen means I’m wasting my time and money trying to lose weight through traditional commercial health and wellness methods. Either I stop cleaning or I risk decreasing my gut flora and I’ll get even fatter. I think the evidence is pretty clear. Don’t clean. Stay thin. Wouldn’t you agree?


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Life is not all political in the Oval Office . . . or is it?


From The Corner of The Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein is not an exposé about the political goings-on behind the  scenes à la Bob Woodward or Michael Wolff. It’s chick lit, for better or worse, and I’m inclined to lean toward better. This memoir is about Dorey-Stein’s five years working at The White House during the Obama administration, including her love affairs prior to and during her time working there and her relationships with fellow employees. As a low-level staffer, she was not privy to confidential meetings with executive staff but she was privileged to accompany the President and his staff on overseas trips, local fund-raisers, family vacations in Hawaii and meetings with foreign leaders.

Dorey-Stein was an under-employed English teacher working several part-time jobs when she spotted an ad for a stenographer on Craig’s List.  Desperate to work at something other than waiting tables, she applied for the job, then blew off the interview. Because part of her past experience included tutoring students at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School attended by Malia Obama, the interviewer followed up and Dorey-Stein was given a second chance to interview.

What she didn’t realize and had not been disclosed in the advertisement was that the job was as a stenographer at The White House, the big one on Pennsylvania Avenue. The job required her to be part of a team that attended every interview, press conference and public speaking event attended by President Barack Obama. His words were recorded and transcribed by stenographers like Dorey-Stein for release to various media sources as well as being kept for historical records. She does have opinions, however. After the Boston Marathon bombing attack, her comments, “You’d think these ‘red-blooded’ conservative congressmen who don’t want equal rights for gays or the right to choose for women would be embarrassed to have the NRA so publicly cupping their balls.” Good one!

Beck Dorey-Stein was there, in the big house, during the saner Obama years.

When she was hired, Stein was advised to “keep her boyfriend” and avoid relationships with secret service agents or fellow employees. Naturally, a young woman in her twenties with raging hormones and a flair for being social found it difficult to adhere to that advice. She was soon romantically involved with a senior member of the executive staff, betraying her boyfriend and her principles. Her new lover, Jason was a chronic and well-known womanizer but she’s already too emotionally involved before she discovers the painful truth about his true colours. Their on-again, off-again affair pulls her under like a drug addiction with no upside other than infrequent good conversation and good sex.

Fans of The West Wing and HBO’s VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus will love this book. In fact, even if you’re not familiar with those television shows, I think you’ll love it. That’s why it’s a New York Times best-seller. While we learn nothing salacious about White House operations during her tenure, it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. Being a fly-on-the-wall observer at a low level, the author treats us to a rare view of life in the West Wing of The White House. We follow her steps through rooms, corridors and offices, journey along on trips within the United States and internationally aboard Airforce 1 and experience personal exchanges with POTUS through her eyes.

From The Corner of the Oval is a fun beach read about the love affairs and working relationships between Obama-era staffers. You won’t learn any dirty secrets or inside political skullduggery but you will enjoy the observations of an articulate young woman who was there. And her Epilogue is titled, Send in the Clowns. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up and escape. I’d rate it 7 out of 10.

Click here to order From The Corner of The Oval by Beck Dory-Stein from Amazon.