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Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who rocked life in THE sixties.


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Maud Lewis respectfully recognized in superb Canadian film

I find it impossible to look at a painting by Maud Lewis and not feel uplifted.

Art is subjective and very personal. Sometimes it leaves us cold; other times it touches us deeply. I’m certainly not an expert but over the years I’ve discovered that the work of certain artists draws me in, makes me feel connected and engaged when I view their work. French Impressionist Augusto Renoir and Quebec artist Marc-Aurèle Fortin both have that effect on me. And, so does Nova Scotia primitive folk artist Maud Lewis. Simply looking at one of her paintings of a spring scene with bursting, colourful flowers, blue skies and puffy white clouds, happy cows grazing in bright green fields bisected by a meandering country road fills me with joy. It’s easy to disparage her work as it resembles the happy, brushwork of a young child. That’s the secret of its enchanting beauty.

Her world was small but her reach expansive.

Like so many artists, Maud Lewis didn’t gain a lot of notoriety and respect until after her death in 1970.  Born in 1903 with multiple birth defects Maud faced challenges right from the beginning, leaving school in the fifth grade. Her protective parents died when she was a young woman and her older brother refused to accept responsibility for her care and support. Destitute at the age of thirty-four, Maud responded to an ad in a local store by 44-year-old bachelor Everett Lewis who was looking for a live-in housekeeper. Maud presented herself at the door of his 12 ft. by 12 ft. cabin and never left. And now there’s a movie about their life called Maudie.

The movie stars Sally Hawkins as Maude and Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett. Before I saw him in the role, I couldn’t imagine handsome Ethan Hawke playing Maud’s contrary, awkward husband, but he was amazing. Sally Hawkins’s portrayal of Maude’s common sense, inner strength and sense of humour was exceptional. Maudie accurately depicts the life of Maud Lewis from early womanhood in Digby, Nova Scotia until her death in 1970. There were credits attributed to several Canadian organizations and it was gratifying to see the woman and her work represented in such a sensitive, respectful movie. There are so few films that the Boomer generation can enjoy (unless you’re into endless sci-fi special effects fantasies) and Maudie nailed it. I loved the movie. The girlfriends who went with me also loved it and if you go see it, I’m sure you will too.

Footnote: A few years ago I visited a Maud Lewis art show of her original work at a small gallery in Yorkville in Toronto. I was totally captivated and would have loved to buy a piece but the most affordable one was $16,000.00. Considering certain pieces now sell for upwards of $100,000+, I should have sold some RRSPs and bought it. Although it might have been a better investment, I probably wouldn’t have been able to part with it. I’ve also visited her tiny cabin which was dismantled and reinstalled in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. If you’re ever there, don’t miss it.

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Mike Myers is our very own symbol of true patriot love, with a touch of class

mike1I know I have a tendency at times (sorry!! it’s a Canadian thing) to gush about books I love, so brace yourself; this is a huge gush. We all know and love fellow Canuck Mike Myers for his Second City and SNL characters as well as his movie roles in Wayne’s World, Austin Powers and Shrek. The Wayne Campbell character was based on his own teenage self. Being funny requires also being smart and Mike Myers displays an abundance of both in his new book about his love affair with Canada appropriately titled Canada.  At nearly four hundred pages, it contains a lot of material but is such a wonderful read I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down (sorry . . . did it again). I read it in less than two days.

Myers’s book is a combination memoir and layman’s guide to all things Canadian. He describes growing up in North York and Scarborough (suburbs of Toronto) with such clarity and relatability that we can practically feel the winter cold, taste the ketchup-flavoured potato chips, hear the shouts on the street of  “game on”, and smell the Tim Horton’s coffee. I once lived in the same neighbourhood around Fairview Mall and can easily picture him and his friend as young boys trying to score hockey stickers from hapless customers at the Don Mills Road and Sheppard Avenue gas station, or envision his family life amidst the white brick high-rise apartment buildings that dominate the neighbourhood.

Like Wayne Gretsky, Myers is endlessly gracious, tossing out dozens of “thank you’s” to everyone along the way who made a positive contribution to his or anyone’s life. His modesty and lack of ego are typically Canadian. The book explains some of our history, our cultural touchstones like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canadian Tire and Tim Horton’s. He also references our more sophisticated British-influenced sense of humour which is heavy on irony and understatement. As an actor and writer, he’s tuned in to the nuances of language and provides examples of how Canadians, Americans and Brits differ in speech patterns. He has an amazing ear for subtleties.

His Wayne Campbell character was totally based on his teenage self.

His Wayne Campbell character was inspired by his teenage self growing up in “Scarberia”.

His observations of life growing up as a typical Canadian boy are entertaining and enlightening. For many years before cable and satellite, we could only get three television stations in Toronto and as a result of watching Irv Weinstein, Buffalo’s answer to Walter Cronkite (Buffalo: the city of endless fires and shootings), Myers and his friends were always baffled when the eleven o’clock news started with “It’s eleven o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” We all remember that tagline and coming from safe and sane Canada, Myers and the rest of us were left wondering, “What’s going on? Where are the children? Should we get in a car and go down to Buffalo and help find the children?”

After I finished reading the book I checked some of the reviews on Amazon and several people suggested non-Canadians wouldn’t “get it”. I totally disagree. In fact, Canada by Mike Myers should be required reading for every Canadian within and outside our borders. I’ll even go further and suggest it should be required reading for every American whose lack of general knowledge about the world outside their borders, particularly their northern neighbour, is shocking and profound. Myers, who spent the first twenty years of his life in Canada before moving for short time to England then the United States to further his career, agrees. “I live in the States. And you never hear any news about Canada when you live in the States.” Canada, as the title suggests is not an autobiography so there’s a lot of personal information missing about his marriage, family life and what he’s being doing the last few years. It’s a self-described love letter to growing up in Canada, intertwined with history, cultural and political observations of our country. It will warm your heart, just like Mike Myers has done for us for many years now. Schwing!

To order a copy of CANADA by Mike Myers from Amazon, click here.

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Funny girl Amy Schumer serves up more than humour

amy1Amy Schumer’s autobiography The Girl With The Lower Back Tatoo” is her personal vagina monologue. Anyone who has watched her television specials or her movie Trainwreck” understands that Schumer’s humour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. She’s smart, talented and totally unfiltered which not everyone appreciates. As a Boomer reading her account of growing up in a blended family where both parents had multiple marriages, we see her living and enjoying a moral freedom we did not experience growing up in the fifties and sixties. Our generation laid the groundwork.

Schumer’s descriptions of the progression of her thirty-something life cover the spectrum from innocence to humour to lessons learned and as with anyone’s life story, some pain. While her humour is obvious, her smarts and work ethic rise above. Top comediennes make it look easy but years of being on the road, living in uncomfortable conditions, working for little or no pay and enduring more than their share of insults and rejection go into developing a career in comedy. The title of her book refers to her regrettable decision while still a teenager to get a massive tribal tattoo on her lower back which ultimately became infected, left keloid scars and is lopsided. We all make mistakes. I once had kakki green hair but that was fixable.

One surprising piece of Amy Schumer’s life that she shares is her experience as a victim of domestic abuse. She warns that despite being a strong, smart woman, she was not immune to believing “It’s not abusive if they feel really bad afterward and promise to love you the rest of your life, right? Right? Wrong.”  Sharing her story and the conflicted feelings surrounding the experience will hopefully make other women aware of the insidious and dangerous path to abuse. This chapter was particularly enlightening and provides valuable insight into the issue.

Another topic worth reading about in this book is Schumer’s position on body image.  She condemns body shaming that drives innocent little eight-year-old girls to go on diets or should-know-better big girls to aspire to heavily Photo-shopped images of unrealistic, unnatural models in magazines and social media. I share her beefs in this regard and hope someday we will see a return to more realistic role models. She also had her only one-night stand with a guy who sounded a lot like Prince Harry (but he wasn’t).

And for anyone doubting the effectiveness of on-line dating, she has some good news. Her boyfriend of several years is a guy called Ben whom she met on a dating site. She and a girlfriend signed up on a lark, were members for forty minutes, got four matches and Ben was one of them. Don’t expect a joke book; it’s a memoir. Overall, I really enjoyed The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo. It’s a fast, easy, informative read written by a savvy, entertaining and hard-working woman. I had to wait a long time for my name to come up on the waiting list from the library, but it was worth the wait. If you don’t want to wait, click here and order it from Amazon or download it.

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Where are real women in the media?

The feminist perspective is relevant and slowly disappearing.

The feminist perspective is relevant but sadly it’s disappearing.

It’s a man’s world in the media. Earlier this year I wrote about SiriusXM radio cancelling my favourite women’s programs (The Judith Regan Show, What She Said and The Martha Stewart Channel, click here to read Sirius, we have a problem). I’m seriously fed up with Sirius and wish they paid more attention to their women listeners. Then, in April of this year my favourite magazine MORE (for mature women) ceased publishing due to lack of advertising revenue (click here for It’s time for some Boomer backlash). The dragnet is widening as Chatelaine and Macleans Magazines are reducing their frequency to bi-monthly and monthly respectively. And Canadian fashion mag LOULOU has ceased publication altogether.

It’s no secret that the advent of digital media has hurt print publishing. My daily newspaper is getting thinner and thinner. With print ad revenue diminishing in favour of on-line marketing, print publishers are laying off columnists and sourcing material from freelancers, shared news sources and, horrors, click-bait. That makes it harder for readers of any gender to enjoy exclusive, original, well-researched, intelligent material. Our information comes in the form of homogenized sound, print or on-line bytes. There are more sports channels on radio and television than I can count and while women have the ubiquitous HGTV option, our choices are painfully limited. It may surprise the men running media operations that women are interested in issues far beyond fashion, decorating, weight-loss and beauty tips. Women in the media is about more than pretty blondes with toned arms in sleeveless dresses reading the news. Women entrepreneurs and success stories have always been a subject of fascination for me but like great women world leaders, composers, artists, scientists and writers of centuries ago, these women and their accomplishments are buried in history, their stories never to be shared.

media1We’ve lost a number of print publications as well as radio and television programs. While the reasons cited are bottom-line related, it concerns me that quality programming for women is disappearing. I don’t know what the solution is. I already subscribe to more than a dozen magazines each month and heaven knows I support their advertisers by buying product but it doesn’t seem to be enough. It seems I’m constantly chasing diminishing sources of sharp, women-centric news and information but I feel like a dog chasing a car. I’ll never catch it and no one hears me barking. But I’ll keep doing it because I’m afraid I’ll get run over. Or perhaps I have already. Hello? Is anyone listening?

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Michael Moore brings home the bacon – but not Canadian-style

moore1Why did it take me so long to finally get around to watching Michael Moore’s documentary film titled “Where To Invade Next”? I’ve long been a fan of his insightful and hard-hitting films exposing what many Americans fail or more likely just refuse to see as truths. His tenacity and honesty challenges the myth that the United States is the greatest country in the world (when, in fact, statistics say it’s Denmark). Moore’s latest mission takes him to various countries around the globe to source and bring home practices not yet recognized in the United States as being “a better way”.

Moore begins his hypothetical invasion by visiting Finland where the quality of education was once tied with the United States at an abysmal twenty-ninth place in the world. By making education enjoyable and encompassing concepts beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic, the Finns have elevated their outcomes to highest in the world. High school students interviewed by Moore were fluent in several languages and spoke English easily and articulately. Two of the cornerstones in the turnaround involved NO homework and more play time from the early years in school. Children are encouraged to be creative with their free time and enjoy their childhood. Holy shit. What a concept. And it’s definitely working for the Finns.

Perhaps that's why French children are so well-behaved in restaurants. Learning proper manners in the home is reinforced by being served healthy meals with .... in school cafeterias.

School cafeterias in France include not only healthy meals but lessons on manners, sharing and nutrition. Perhaps that’s why French children are so mannerly in restaurants.

Socialist France regularly provides four-course student lunches that would compete with any four-star restaurant. These lunches are not the fries and Mac n’Cheese fare washed down with a Coke offered at most North American school cafeterias. The French have chefs at each school and the menus are submitted to and approved ahead of time by local authorities to ensure they are healthy and prepared with fresh produce daily. Several varieties of cheese are offered as well as lamb, pork, beef and poultry with sides of fresh vegetables, fruit and a dessert. And the beverage? Plain, old, not-loaded-with-sugar-and-preservatives water, served in glasses, not plastic cups. The food is also served on real dishes and cutlery (not disposable plastic) using the opportunity to teach students other skills like table manners, sharing and the art of conversation.

Norway's correctional system is designed to instill a value system of cooperation, respect for others, fair treatment and dignity.

Norway’s correctional system is designed to develop and instill a positive value system of mutual cooperation, respect for others, fair treatment and dignity for inmates during their incarceration.

Norway’s maximum security prison has private rooms for inmates who possess their own door keys providing a level of personal dignity that is often missing in the “outside world”. The emphasis is on supporting and teaching inmates a value system based on respect, consideration and decency, concepts far removed from North American institutions. Prison guards are not armed and none of the inmates interviewed had suffered brutality, rape or other abuses rampant in North American prisons.

Obviously, these countries are not utopia. They have their share of problems and are not perfect. Moore admits this in his documentary but the point he’s making is that there is so much wrong with America’s approach to education, crime, drugs, welfare and social issues that they should take off the blinders and look beyond their own borders to see how the rest of the world functions and perhaps learn. If you’ve ever traveled to the United States you know that television news there is focused totally within their borders, as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Most Americans have no idea what is going on in Germany, Muslim Tunisia, Iceland or Asia. In fact, they could learn from Iceland where male corporate bankers who bankrupted the country were put in jail in a remote area isolated from family and society. The country was then turned over to women who got the economy back on track. Compare that to the United States who indicted only one banker after the 2008 fiasco.

When is Michael Moore going to invade Canada?

Strangely, though, there was nothing in this documentary from Canada worth hijacking. We know Americans love our bacon but we have much more than that to offer. Let’s assume he’s planning an all-out attack on Canada—a full-on invasion worthy of a documentary all its own. Now that would be something fascinating to see. Imagine Michael Moore looking into our universal health care system, minority rights, our prisons, the ethics of our government, our educational institutions, or even the relative health and social merits of Tim Horton’s. Would our immigration policies pass muster? What about the treatment of our indigenous people trying to survive on isolated, poorly-serviced reserves, our propensity for politeness (hockey games excluded)? We’re not all igloos and cold fronts and Michael Moore’s perspective could provide some interesting perspective.

There’s plenty more to appreciate in Where To Invade Next. Pour yourself a glass of wine or make a BLT, sit back in your LaZ-Girl chair and watch it on Netflix or pay-per-view. You’ll be educated, informed, entertained and rewarded. Once again, Moore brings home his message masterfully.

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Florence Foster Jenkins soars above her abilities

florence1No actor does watery eyes and tears better than Meryl Streep and both are evident in her latest movie based on real-life personality Florence Foster Jenkins. What came as a bit of a surprise was how comedic Streep is, although she capably displayed this talent in Julia and Julia several years ago. After watching Florence Foster Jenkins I came home and immediately Google’d her name to find out more about this complex person.

Born into a wealthy family, Florence displayed a particular talent for music and as a child once played the piano for American President Rutherford Hayes. When her father refused to bankroll her musical career she tragically married young and contracted syphilis from her husband, whom she immediately left. Several years later, when both of her parents died and she inherited a considerable sum of money, she became a patron, sponsor and participant in New York’s operatic society. Florence regularly held private recitals in her apartment or a rented ballroom at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, oblivious of the fact she had a terrible singing voice and no sense of rhythm or timing.

Streep was touching and hilarious in the title role.

Streep was touching and hilarious in the title role.

St. Clair Bayfield came into her life fulfilling the role of husband (although they were never officially married) and manager. Hugh Grant was excellent as her seemingly upper-class English actor husband and their relationship was fascinating to watch. Bayfield and her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon were loyal enablers, overlooking her obvious shortcomings as a singer and supporting her career and ambitions. In 1944 at the age of seventy-six when she was in failing health, Florence staged a concert at Carnegie Hall, donating one thousand tickets to servicemen. Despite a rocky introduction and the unmistakable laughter from the audience, she pushed through to her finale. She died a few weeks later.  My girlfriends and I really enjoyed the movie which has some great laughs. If you’ve seen it or plan to, let me know what you thought. There’s a moral to the story.

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Liar, liar, pants on fire!

A celebrity interviewer once asked Cher what quality she most detests in other people. Her answer was immediate and simple, “Lying.” Cher holds honesty in high regard and the fact that that one question has stuck with me all these years later attests to its profound impact. I have always felt that lies, even tiny “white” ones have no place in daily life. Bear in mind that withholding the truth is not the same thing. For example, in order to not hurt someone’s feelings, it’s sometimes prudent to not tell it like it is.

liar1Watching our politicians, business leaders and people in our daily lives utter blatant lies is disheartening to say the least. Much of the plot humour on television shows and in movies originates from and glorifies lying. Imagine how much less complicated our court systems would be if people really did tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Or, before crimes even come to court, if the guilty simply told the police officer the truth. Unravelling a string of lies to unearth that nugget of truth is an exhausting, frustrating and often futile ordeal.

Think of all the lies we’ve been victims of by the big banks during the economic crash of 2008, by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, our own politicians including Kathleen Wynne and the late Rob Ford, not to mention Olympic athletes and celebrities. How much stronger would our society be today if we were treated like intelligent human beings who are capable of handling the truth.

liar2I would like to invent a secret device that automatically detonates and sets someone’s pants on fire when they tell a lie. Much like the swimming pool chemical that turns the water red when you think you’re sneaking a pee in the pool, your lie would be immediately be visible to all. Imagine how different our world would be. Of course, there should be an adjustment to accommodate the question, “Honey, do these pants make me look fat?” Or it might prompt us to stop asking the question. It’s rhetorical. Those pants probably deserve to ignite anyway.

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