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Dreaming of a whiter shade of pale . . . and other old lady fantasies

We’re never satisfied.

We’re never satisfied are we? If we’re blessed with natural curls we spend all our days with the flat iron or depending on our ethnicity, subjecting our hair to harsh chemical treatments. If we have straight hair, we’re forever frying it with the curling iron and spraying the bejeezus out of it in our quest for natural-looking curls. If we have glorious red hair, we want blonde. In fact, as many of us age, regardless of our natural colour we opt for blonde—all-over or strategic tone-on-tone highlights—to soften the face. I was a serious user of Clairol’s shampoo-in Light n’Easy Strawberry Blonde in my early twenties but the upkeep was tiresome and hard on my hair.

Then, there was that time I accidentally bleached my entire head during an impulsive and disastrous late-night attempt at brightening up my look. I had to go to work the next day with orange straw for hair, looking like a scarecrow. When I tried applying a light ash blonde shampoo-in colour to tone it down, my hair turned green. That fiasco was followed by lashings of cheap yellow shampoo to fix it but basically my hair was so damaged I just had to wait until it all grew out. Most of us have similar stories. I soon resorted to minimal impact, safe highlights and have been a dedicated fan for fifty years.

Maye Musk. Maybe in my next life.

Many baby boomer websites and blogs are now glorifying grey and white hair, letting our natural beauty shine. Canadian-born super model Maye Musk (mother of Tesla founder Elon Musk) represents the pinnacle of what I aspire to look like. Slim, fine-featured and gorgeous with a shock of lovely white hair, she’s the personification of aging gracefully. For those women who starting turning grey in their late teens or twenties, early intervention at the salon was followed by a lifetime of time-consuming maintenance and the accompanying hefty financial commitment. On the plus side, technical advances in professional hair colouring have made it so much easier to keep our locks looking beautiful long past our best-before dates.

When I look at pictures of Ali McGraw, Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Maye Musk and other ladies of my generation sporting gorgeous white hair, I’m truly envious. I loved Meryl Streep’s hair/wig in The Devil Wears Prada. But there’s a caveat. Half-way doesn’t have the same effect. It’s the drama of pure white hair juxtaposed with great cheekbones and stylish, colourful fashions that achieves that crescendo. Even though I’m seventy years old (ouch, still can’t believe that number), my own natural hair colour has little to no gray. Don’t know why that happened, but when my natural growth reaches the one or two-inch mark, I totter off for a high-light refresh. Some might consider me lucky to not have to worry about touching up grey roots every three or four weeks, but, I want to look like Maye Musk. Sigh . . .

Am I now paying the price for all those years of sleeping on brush rollers in high school?

My friend Perry has the kind of pure white hair I would kill for. She wears it short and sporty and it sets off her perfect skin and large blue eyes so beautifully. Meanwhile, I motor on with my light mousey colour enhanced with blonde highlights. Maybe, like Marie Antoinette I need a good shock, like facing the guillotine (although turning seventy came close) to give me the white hair I covet. But then I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it so where’s the fun in that?

At the rate it’s thinning, I should be thankful I have any hair at all. I’m tempted to sprinkle a little Miracle Grow on my scalp. It can’t hurt. When I was at the hairdresser’s a couple of weeks ago, the young woman in the next chair actually had the bottom half of the back of her head shaved below the occipital bone so her perfect bob would fall properly. I’m watching this in stunned amazement as my stylist carefully cut my hair one strand at a time to preserve as much volume as possible. I nearly pass out with envy. Some of us have so much and others so little. Please pass the estrogen. I could use a top-up of that too. I’m entitled to my fantasies.

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What did you have for breakfast?

Not in my front yard.

Our house is located at the end of an eleven-home enclave on a T-shaped street. It’s tricky to find without specific instructions, particularly on a dark night. Naturally, little Halloween trick or treaters are reluctant to turn the corner where our illuminated pumpkin on the front porch confirms we’re open for business on the big night. I particularly love the little ones who often look bewildered as they’re being toted from house to house in the dark, wearing funny outfits they don’t understand. We ate dinner early to be ready for the onslaught, stacked the goodies by the front door, turned the inside front hall light on and sat anxiously in our his and hers La-Z-Boy® chairs waiting for all the little Cinderella’s, Spidermen, zombies, Big Birds and other assorted costumed munchkins. We turn every outside light on to make the path to our house less scary and more welcoming but despite our best efforts at hospitality we received only two (!!!) visitors on Halloween this year—the 12-year-old boy in camouflage gear from two doors down and a single pint-sized superhero of indeterminate gender. What happened? Were the parents unable to cobble together a politically correct costume for their little ones so they just opted out and stayed home?

I can see I’m going to have to take extra measures to try and lure trick or treaters to our house next year. I could place fluorescent traffic cones along the sidewalk and hire a policeman with white gloves and an official flashlight to direct children to our door. Or does that sound too creepy, even for Halloween? We’re still smarting from the rejection and don’t care to experience a repeat of this year’s poor turnout.

You can never be too prepared.

Last year we had sixteen visitors and our friends at the more visible front of our little court received over one hundred trick or treaters and had to come and relieve us of some of our loot to pass out after they ran out. We’re never quite sure how many will ring our doorbell on Halloween but just to be on the safe side, I stock extra goodies. With the foresight of any good host, my hand-outs are something we enjoy in case there are left-overs. Then, there’s also the issue of the peculiar ‘evaporation’ of supplies before the big night so extra inventory is essential. This year I bought a box of fifty bags of potato chips. I actually prefer ripple chips but they went the way of Trump’s integrity this year and were nowhere to be found—not at the grocery stores, Costco or Wal-Mart. Since potato chips are rather unimaginative, I felt a bit embarrassed and planned to top off the handout with little chocolate bars. Then, at the last minute on Tuesday, I sent my husband out to buy packages of red licorice Twizzlers (see personal preference comment above) in case we or our neighbours ran short.

Because we had only two visitors, I’m now researching how to recycle ninety packages of red licorice that cost $25.00 (that’s what happens when men shop) that are now on sale at the same store for half-price, forty-eight bags of a brand of potato chips I don’t care for, and several dozen little chocolate bars that taste like icky brown wax. Any suggestions? I suppose I could make forty-eight tuna casseroles to crumble the potato chips on. Or use the puffy bags of chips as packing material when mailing packages at Christmas. I’m sure the grandchildren would much prefer bags of potato chips instead of styrofoam pellets in their gift boxes. The chocolate bars could be handy for stabilizing wobbly chairs or table legs. They might even work as temporary glue when I run out of Elmers. With a little zap in the microwave to soften them up they could be repurposed as caulking around our drafty doors and dryer vent. Or, I could keep them in the console of my car as part of my emergency rations when I’m stranded in a snowstorm. The problem with that is emergencies are highly subjective and they might not last until winter. Waiting at a slow red light qualifies, as does going through the automatic car wash. And as we all know, frozen is no obstacle to devouring canned chocolate frosting, cake, cookies and other rations in times of need. We’re experts at adapting stale and otherwise inedible treats to accommodate cravings.

Breakfast of champions.

The beauty of Halloween candy is it keeps forever. I’ll bet the archeologists who uncovered Tutankhaman’s tomb in ancient Egypt found toffees that were still edible after centuries of being stashed in cool, dark urns. In a few years when I’ve passed on and my executors go through my house, they’ll still be able to eat those tiny Mars Bars and KitKats they find hidden in my night table. That’s the advantage of buying quality. It lasts. When you’re having menopause cravings there’s nothing as satisfying in your hour of desperation as year-old Halloween candy. Ask any baby boomer woman. In fact, the calories probably diminish after awhile so the older, the better. I should probably tackle those boxes of goodies by the front door right away as they’re a definite tripping hazard and at my age I can’t afford any broken bones. I’m pretty sure I can find a use for the red licorice but I won’t disclose it here in case my friends at Weight Watchers read this. Or I could save everything for next year. In the meantime, I’m going to have to keep an eagle eye on what my husband eats for breakfast until I dispose of the loot. A woman’s work never ends.

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Breaking up is still hard to do

As more of our generation is retiring, accepting early golden parachute offers or even sadly, being made redundant through restructuring, I thought I would republish a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. The message endures.

Bette Davis is famously quoted as saying, “Getting old ain’t for sissies”. Retirement is a natural by-product of getting old and requires attention. For some, it’s wonderful; for others, not so much. I definitely fall into the former category but for those who are forced to retire before they’re psychologically or financially ready it can be devastating.

You’re out! You’re no longer part of the team.

At the risk of generalizing, I think it’s often more difficult for men than women to retire. The Boomer generation and our parents’ generation is characterized by men who devoted their entire adult lives to their work. Perhaps it was a family business, a demanding occupation like medicine or maybe it was a prestigious corporate position. Retirement means these individuals have lost not only something to do every day but their very identity. Gen X’ers and millennials watched their parents (us, Boomers) doing this, got the message and have flipped that psychology on its ear.

When you’re retired, people are no longer impressed by what you once did for a living. When you’re not Mr. Big, President of ABC International Corporation it can create a huge vacuum. Because you no longer have the power to improve the lives of your former coworkers they drop you from their social and business circle. This alienation can be devastating. The 2002 movie About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates clearly illustrates the shock of transition. When Schmidt, played by Jack Nicholson attends his retirement party, the speeches and platitudes from his coworkers at the insurance company where he had dedicated his life were so cliché and familiar it was heartbreaking.

My friend David worked in the marketing department of a giant international corporation. The corporate culture was casual and creative with frequent product launches, brainstorming sessions, corporate retreats and big-budget product promotions . Co-workers often socialized outside of work hours going on skiing weekends and attending parties together.  When David retired he expected his former coworkers to keep him in the loop but the invitations stopped. He was understandably confused and hurt that people he had always considered friends as well as co-workers no longer wanted his company.

business lunch2
Business associates and friends are not the same thing, despite what it seems.

Another executive I know from the financial services sector was similarly affected when suddenly dropped by his circle of business friends when he retired. He felt abandoned and couldn’t understand why his calls weren’t returned and no one wanted to join him for lunch anymore. Once the unspoken message became clear, he was forced to accept the truth—he was no longer a somebody. His business friends were in fact not real friends at all but merely business associates and when he could no longer do anything for them they no longer needed or wanted his company.

This particular aspect of retirement can result in feelings similar to divorce. The entity that has been a huge part of your life is gone and no longer cares to associate with you. Like divorce where you lose being part of a couple, loss of some friends, probably your home and assets, you lose a large component of your life. A new strategy for moving on is required.  For some individuals it might take the form of part-time consulting work to keep a hand in the business world, albeit to a lesser degree. Others may prefer a more relaxed approach, taking time to enjoy all the activities that working did not allow for. This can include golf and other sports, taking courses, spending time with the grandkids, pursuing hobbies or perhaps a part-time job.

Retiring for me, however, meant total and utter freedom at last. Now I have the time to read voraciously, entertain at my leisure, get together with friends, take vacations whenever I please and do dozens of other things I’ve waited for my entire life. Fortunately, it was and is the best time of my life and just keeps getting better.

Over the years I have observed people approaching retirement with different attitudes. Some were looking forward to european travelhaving the time to travel and do things with friends. Others were bewildered and had no constructive plan for filling their time. Those who were not prepared were often the ones who developed health issues that may have contributed to an early demise. Interestingly, many of the retiring career women I have worked with were often the ones who had a Mediterranean cruise or a tour of Ireland scheduled for the week after they finished work. They had plans to volunteer at a library or hospital and hit the ground running. These are generally the people who live the longest and have the richest, most fulfilling retirement.

Enjoying retirement does not have to involve memberships in expensive golf clubs or Mediterranean cruises. The most simple things now give me enormous pleasure. There’s nothing better than enjoying a second cup of tea as I take my time over the morning paper.  The luxury of being able to go grocery shopping minus the crowds on a Tuesday morning or hanging sheets outside on the line to dry in the morning breezes still give me great pleasure. The novelty of enjoying a ladies lunch with a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio and not having to rush back to the office has still not worn off. Entertaining friends is much more pleasurable when you have the luxury of time to shop, cook and prepare for your guests.

Just like in a divorce, breaking up with your employer can be devastating or it can be yourhippie boomers2 “get out of jail free” card. When that door slams behind you, the outcome is entirely up to you. I say, crank up the 60s music and let’s rock n’ roll. As Boomer Broads we’re living our best years now.

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Who doesn’t enjoy playing house?

Gender roles were more clearly defined growing up in the fifties – or were they really? (L to R) My brother Ron (the victim of a bossy older sister), me and my friend Brenda, dressed for afternoon tea.

When boomers were growing up in the fifties and sixties, gender roles were more clearly defined than they are today. Little girls played with dolls; little boys played Davey Crockett. Little girls were Barbara Ann Scott; little boys were Maurice Richard. Sometimes we strayed into crossover territory though. I clearly remember cherishing my white straw cowboy hat with the chin cord and jeans with the Hopalong Cassidy patch on the pocket. And my girlfriends and I took great pride in being able to out shoot (toy guns were still politically acceptable then), out run and outsmart any of the boys in our neighbourhood.

One of the most common activities we engaged in as little girls was playing ‘house’. We’d play with our dolls in tents set up with clothespins and blankets, play in a corner of the room or the front porch creating little scenarios that for us represented domestic life as we knew it. Fortunately, most of us enjoyed reasonably stable home lives and for those who didn’t, playing make-believe was an escape. We’d push our doll carriages up and down the street, copying our mothers going about their daily chores. We’d prepare fake meals and serve fake tea in little sets of painted tin dishes. Life was simple and uncomplicated. And most baby boomers lived in neighbourhoods teeming with other children our age so we were always busy and socially involved.

Have you ever considered that now that we’re retired we’ve come full circle? Now that I’m free from the working world and the struggles inherent in building our lives, we’re in a very peaceful place. I enjoy the simple pleasures of life—tea in the afternoon with a friend, walking the dog after dinner, even doing the ironing while I watch a good program on television. My everyday routines give me a sense of satisfaction and feelings of pleasure. I’m thankful to be alive, to be healthy and to have options about how I live my life.

As I was cleaning up the kitchen this morning it occurred to me that I’m now playing ‘house’ once again. My life is full of domestic activities, cruising the neighbourhood with friends, matching wits with the men in our lives and those close to us. I can devote an entire afternoon to sitting in the back yard engrossed in a good book if I want. Instead of pushing my doll stroller, I push a grocery cart on a Tuesday morning when it’s not busy or I walk my dog up the street. I serve tea in real china cups now and serve it with real cookies I’ve made. I discuss the various dramas of life with close friends over dinners of lovingly prepared real food instead of pretend. Every so often I dress up in my fancy clothes and go out on a date with my husband, my life’s answer to a Ken doll. It took a long time and no small amount of strife and stress to get to this place in time, but damn, I thoroughly enjoy playing ‘house’.

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Remember when laundry was a chore?

Some friends and I were discussing laundry the other day (our lives really are more interesting than this conversation would lead you to think), making the inevitable comparisons between how it’s done today and how it was done when we were growing up in the fifties and sixties. Our mothers had wringer washers and clothes were hung outside to dry, which was a giant leap in terms of convenience compared to how their mothers handled laundry. My grandmother raised eight kids washing everything by hand and only got her first wringer washer when her eldest son bought her one when he got his first job.

The upside was we could do four loads at the same time.

While living in various cheap apartments and bed-sits during my early working life, I was accustomed to taking the laundry, a box of detergent and a bag of quarters in my bundle buggy down the street a few blocks to the laundromat, or later, when I advanced in the world, having facilities conveniently located in the basement of my apartment building. That was luxury. When my husband and I bought our first (town)house in Pickering in the seventies, the greatest thrill was having my own washing machine and it didn’t require coins. I no longer had to use the same machine as hundreds of other people who’d put heaven-knows-what in the load before mine. At the time, we couldn’t afford five appliances and I really really wanted a dishwasher (my first) so I had to forgo a clothes dryer to stay within our four-appliance budget (fridge, stove, washer, dishwasher). It was three years before I got a dryer to sit alongside my beloved automatic washer. A friend who also bought her first house at the same time installed an old coin-operated washer and dryer that had been discarded from her family’s campground laundry building. She, too, could use it without coins. Such lucky girls. And to think young marrieds today can’t imagine living without all the mod cons including granite countertops.

And they called wringer washers a modern convenience.

Decades later, I still love my washer and dryer and it’s probably because I clearly remember when laundry was not such an easy chore for me and my boomer friends. When I was in high school in the early sixties and I did the household laundry it was in the “cellar” with our wringer washing machine sitting alongside a dual-tub concrete laundry sink. For those readers who weren’t born then, all the washing was done with the same tub of water that was recycled into the left laundry tub before being pumped back into the machine for each subsequent load and so on until darks were washed last. After several loads of sheets, towels and clothing, the darks were the least likely to show the residual effects of washing in water recycled from previous loads. This handy feature was called a “suds-saver”. The right side of the concrete laundry tub was then used for hand-rinsing the clothes in cold water before being manually fed into the wringer. A wooden stick was handy for keeping your fingers out of the rollers but not always successful and many women suffered painful hand injuries.

As kids, we thought frozen longjohns were hilarious.

In summer we hung clothes outside in the breezes where they dried quickly and the sheets and pillowcases smelled heavenly when you put them back on the bed. In winter, the clothes froze solid on the outside line and always made us kids laugh at jeans and pyjamas stiff as boards when we brought them in. When clothes weren’t dried in a warm dryer, everything had to be ironed—socks, underwear, towels, even pyjamas because everything was stiff and wrinkled. In the days before steam irons, everything had to be ‘dampened’. Remember that? At our house we used an old Pepsi bottle filled with water and a corked sprinkler gadget in the neck. We’d sprinkle all the clothes and roll them in damp towels that waited rolled up like cordwood in the bathtub until they were ready to be ironed. Cotton was the primary fabric used in clothing then (wool was hand washed in cold water) so wrinkles abounded.

They call this work? Not in my world.

Recalling those sequences of work with my friends reminded me of how lucky we are today. Not only do we have so many fabrics that require minimal care and no ironing, we are blessed with washing machines and dryers that do everything but dispense our wine. I load the machine, tap a setting and with a few ping ping pings, technology does all the work. But old habits die hard. I still hang sheets outside and I’m genetically programmed to always do the darks last, even though I don’t need to. No more cellars, no more recycled water, dipping hands in freezing rinse water, feeding clothes into the wringer one piece at a time, dampening everything for ironing and blessedly, no more work. Even our laundry rooms now get ‘decorated’ to be cheerful, efficient and enjoyable. I may not know how to use my cell phone to its full capability or how to program all the settings on my TV but I sure know how to tap out those laundry settings. And how to pour a nice cold glass of wine while technology does all the work. We’ve come a long way baby.

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Don’t toss your skinny jeans just yet. There’s still hope.

When I read the heading of an article in The Globe and Mail “Scientists test blocking menopause hormone” my little heart skipped a beat. Whatever do they have on the horizon for us now? No more hot flashes? No more meno-brain? And best of all, no more weight gain with its accompanying ugly muffin top? According to The New York Times’ News Service writer Gina Kolata, scientists using research with lab mice, (which are a lot like us!! . . we’ll grab on to any ray of hope) have discovered that a single hormone called FSH is responsible for the universal characteristics of menopause including bone loss and weight gain which presents as abdominal fat. Blocking that hormone could not only mean the end of menopausal symptoms but goodbye elastic waists and calcium supplements. More importantly, it could launch a massive resurrection in fashion options for baby boomers. There could be life beyond Eileen Fisher.

Imagine the possibilities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could keep the shape we so took for granted in our twenties. Would we start wearing mini-skirts again? Bare our midriff in saucy summer crop tops? Even start going sleeveless? Who wouldn’t love to rediscover her hip bones, buried for years under layers of abdominal fat? When I read the article my pulse raced as I envisioned digging out those lovely leather belts I haven’t been able to wear for decades. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to throw out those fabulous size 27 jeans with the red ankle zippers that I loved so much and wore in the seventies. The possibility of tucking a tapered blouse or tee shirt into my skinny jeans again just thrills me to my very toes.

The fashion industry today is irrelevant. It should not be solely the domain of the young and thin. Boomers wanna have fun too!

OMG. Maybe my feet would be also affected by this new hormone discovery and I could wear sassy heels again. Could I? Would I? The possibilities are just too delicious to fathom. Dare I contemplate once more wearing a pretty bathing suit without a giant bathrobe-like coverup? Perhaps I’m being overly-optimistic but already I’m mentally calculating my new pant size. And what if we weren’t restricted to utilitarian bras structurally engineered to minimize back fat, overflow and side boobage. Do I see lace underwear and sexy lingerie in our future? With no hot flashes maybe we could even start wearing sweaters in the winter again—fitted, fine-knit little turtlenecks like we wore in our twenties, in every colour, tucked in. The possibilities are dancing in my head like visions of sugar plums. Would it be the end of cellulite? Do I see shorts in our future? White ones worn with (spray) tanned legs? Would our hair grow back in, thick, shiny and luxurious like it used to be, and I don’t mean on our upper lip and chin? Maybe I could once again grow that gorgeous bob I looked so good in forty years ago. Would my eyesight improve allowing me to drive after dark? Or even stay awake after dark? I’d be happy with that. With our super powers restored, boomers would kick serious Gen X and millennial butt in the business and fashion world. Let them deride us at their peril.

Could this be the future me?

Single hormone blocker could topple worldwide economy

If this hormone blocker works, the worldwide economic implications could be massive. For starters, the absence of hot flashes would mean the global collapse of the entire ceiling fan industry. Duvets might even make a resurgence. Millions of yards of fabric in third-world sweat shops would no longer be needed to cover expanding boomer bottoms, upper arms and waistlines. Air conditioning in homes and public buildings around the world could be turned down to normal levels, conserving energy and eliminating the need for heavy sweaters and coats in malls and restaurants by non-menopausal customers. The effect on the environment would be better than anything The Paris Accord could have ever dreamed of. The entire diet industry would be threatened if boomer gals no longer had to worry about losing that last few pounds for their high school reunion or a family wedding. Diets would be redundant for an entire generation.

Call me.

Back to the present. The mice in the studies had their ovaries removed and produced no estrogen at all.  Instead of losing bone density and getting fat the test subjects who received the FSH blocker actually lost large amounts of fat which sounds like a boomer broad’s dream come true. The study undertaken by Dr. Mone Zaidi a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York comes with a caveat though. But (and there’s always a ‘but’), researchers caution that tests conducted on mice often do not produce similar results in humans. I don’t care. Sign me up as a test subject. I still have all those fabulous belts languishing in my closet. I’m tired of saying ‘no’ to dessert and foregoing ice-cream for carrot sticks. I’m sick of living on salads, kale chips and quinoa. I want to strut out once again in my skinny jeans with red high heels and a saucily tucked-in silk shirt over a lacey French bra. I don’t care if I develop a preference for nibbling cheese in dark corners under the baseboards. At least I’ll feel and look great rockin’ my newly slender old bod, and who doesn’t love cheese. Dr. Zaidi? Call me. Immediately.

Click here to read “Scientists test blocking menopause hormone”.

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