BOOMERBROADcast

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


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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.


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Are our senior citizens really OK?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Don’t buy into the multi-tasking myth


Don’t you believe it!

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

Feeling uninspired? Take a nap

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

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

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

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

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

This is my idea of being productive.

This is my idea of being productive.

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

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


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Thoughts on A Room of One’s Own


Spoiler alert: this is not a book review so relax and enjoy some thoughts on serenity. Virginia Woolf knew what she was talking about when she penned her famous story about the importance of women having their own private space in the home. Hers was devoted to writing and reflection. She recognized and advocated for financial independence and privacy in women’s lives. When she was alive in the first half of the twentieth century women were considered second class citizens. Many could not vote, work outside the home, have their own bank accounts or divorce their husbands. Twenty-first century women have much to be thankful for, although we still have a long way to go. Woolf would be pleased to see the progress we’ve made but, time has only confirmed and reinforced her vision. Experts suggest it will be another one hundred years before women have full equality.

My own personal space.

Now that baby boomer women are retiring, a room of one’s own has taken on practical dimensions. In fact, my own special room is literally ten feet wide and eleven feet long. It contains bookshelves loaded with years of loved books. There’s a comfortable off-white twill settee for reading, a computer desk and chair for working on my blog, memory-evoking pictures on the walls including a street map of Paris and a shadow box with a rose from the bouquet my husband gave me on our first Valentine’s Day together. There’s a television that never gets turned on but it’s there if I need it. A cream and taupe rug covers most of the dark hardwood floor and of course, there’s a wee little dog bed for our Yorkshire terrier. A lovely wide window looks out over my husband’s gorgeous hydrangea bushes, a linden tree and a blue spruce we planted the year we moved in. My little room is a genuine slice of feminine heaven and I spend several hours in there every day.

Not only do we need our own space, but so do our husbands or partners. It’s an equal opportunity situation. The high-tech digital age means laptops and televisions are now allocated to individual members of the household. In the case of retired people like ourselves, we each need our own space for working on our computers and I’ve discovered the secret to a happy marriage is separate televisions—one for news, weather and sports (his) and one for HGTV, PBS and other women-friendly channels (hers). Consequently, my honey also has a room of his own with his LaZboy, television, desk and computer. It’s a happy arrangement.

A wee slice of heaven outdoors.

When weather permits (this is Canada, after all), my favourite private space of all is sitting outside in the shade surrounded by flowers and trees in our back yard. I can listen to the birds, feel and smell sweet, warm breezes and maintain a sense of peaceful balance. I can read my books and even tip back in my cushioned faux wicker LaZgirl from Canadian Tire and have a delicious snooze. Life is sweet.

Virginia Woolf’s understanding of the value of quiet time and private space is as relevant today as it was nearly one hundred years ago. Women still need private space and financial independence. The only difference is technology. And we have to be careful that we don’t let technology encroach too much. Do you have a favourite or special spot in your house where you can read, paint, write, knit or simply be? Perhaps it’s a corner of your livingroom, bedroom or kitchen. Maybe it’s a spare bedroom. I hope you are lucky like me and have managed to carve out your own private space. Where’s yours?


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Zadie Smith’s back in my good books


Do male authors explore the complicated relationships between childhood friends to the extent women do? I found myself wondering that as I read Swing Time by Zadie Smith about two girls growing up in the council estates of suburban London. Another author, Elena Ferrante managed to fill four voluminous novels about two close friends growing up in Naples, Italy, post World War II. I devoured all four of Ferrante’s books, one after the other. Female relationships are endlessly fascinating.

After hearing a delightful interview with the British writer Zadie Smith on the radio about her novel NW a few years ago, I bought the book and couldn’t wait to read it. After three tries, I gave up but a couple of weeks ago I picked up her earlier book, Swing Time, which tracks the lives of two bi-racial young girls who bond through a shared love of dancing when they meet at Miss Isobel’s dance class in their neighbourhood community centre. Like the protagonists in Ferrante’s books, Smith’s main characters are soul-mates, competitors, combatants and, most importantly, enduring life-long friends. The title of the book is drawn from their mutual love of classic musicals featuring dancers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The narrator comes from a comparatively secure, two-parent home with a loving, conscientious white father who works at the post office. Her driven, feminist, leftist Jamaican mother’s life is devoted to expanding her knowledge of social issues and working on getting a university degree through extended learning programs. Her best friend Tracey has a white mother and a largely absent, ne’er-do-well Jamaican immigrant father, Louie, who appears during brief releases from prison to bestow upheaval on the family.

Both girls love dance and envision their futures in West End musicals. They practise, they improvise, they study the moves and techniques of early dancers and build a fantasy world of their own in their London council estate. Tracey is the more feminine of the two and her body and personality lend themselves to precocious behaviour which ultimately causes a rift in the friendship. As the girls become teenagers, the gap widens.

The main plot line and subplots are interesting to follow as the various colourful characters take shape and grow. Through a series of serendipitous events, the narrator (we never learn her name) lands a job as one of several personal assistants to a major rock star, Aimee, reminiscent of Madonna. While she devotes her life and work to serving Aimee, Tracey pursues her stage career with the two women crossing paths intermittently. Work with Aimee takes our protagonist to a poor village in Africa where the star is building a girls’ school and we are given insights into the political, sociological and economic implications of interfering in a foreign culture, despite all good intentions.

Author Zadie Smith.

Now I can see why Zadie Smith is such an acclaimed writer. Her story lines, characters and writing are interesting. The dialogue captures the working class idiom and psychology of the council estate residents. As with Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series of books, however, I found Smith perhaps spent too much time on the girls’ early years in school. That slowed down the pace and it was tempting to just skip over those pages. Otherwise, my only complaint is a personal one which I’ve mentioned before. I get confused when authors toggle back and forth in time; it disrupts the rhythm of the story. I prefer things to progress chronologically. After reading Swing Time I decided to once again give NW a try, but the loose, stream-of-consciousness writing and lack of punctuation confused and annoyed me, so I gave up—again. I really enjoyed Swing Time though and give it 7 out of 10.

Click here to order Swing Time by Zadie Smith from Amazon.

Click here to order Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels from Amazon.


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It’s the most wonderful day of the week


Mondays come with multiple benefits. Not only because I’m retired and no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work but also because Monday is change-the-sheets day. When we’re retired, it’s often those simple things that give us enormous pleasure. I”ll never understand how people can wake up in the morning and go to work or start their day without making their bed. The only thing lovelier than sliding into nice, smooth, cool sheets at the end of the day is when they’re freshly changed. In our house, that happens on Monday. When I change the sheets, I hang the freshly laundered ones outside to dry—screw the local bylaws. It’s environmentally friendly and they’re hung below the fence line where no one can see them.

Don’t you agree there’s nothing more delicious than sliding into a freshly made bed with crisp cotton sheets that have been air-dried and the pillow cases ironed with a spritz of lavender linen water? I even cheat and change the pillow cases mid-week to rush the experience. Is it a boomer broad thing, or am I the only peculiar one? My friends and I even have an acronym for it—CSD—clean sheets day. My friend Margaret loves the experience so much. she immediately hops in and has a snooze on CSD.

Bonne nuit.

I’ve yet to meet a man who understands our pleasure. My mother always loved CSD and my father was oblivious. My husband doesn’t get it either. Maybe it’s because we’re usually the ones who do the laundering and changing so we’re true aficionados of the ritual. Oprah gets it; her sheets are changed every second day, which is particularly gratifying when you have staff to do the work. The only downside I’m finding is that as I get older and my back gets weaker, it’s becoming harder to pull and lift the heavy corners of the mattress to tuck in those fitted sheets. I need Oprah’s staff to give me a hand, or better still, do it for me.

The reward will come tonight around 10:30 when I slide into bed, propped up with a good book in my hands (it’s currently by Zadie Smith, but more on that another time), snuggled up with my honey and my little Yorkie and a smile of satisfaction on my face. It’s a well-earned and delicious pleasure. Sweet dreams mes chères.

Click here to read There’s work and then there’s ironing