You’re having a pot luck? Great. What can I bring? Dessert? Salad? Veg? NOOOOO!Not an hors d’oeuvre! That’s the one thing I hate to do most in the world—right up there with washing the inside of my kitchen cupboards. Even worse, because it requires planning, specialty shopping, fiddling and figuring out how to keep everything fresh/crisp/moist/whatever. And my creations are never as fresh/crisp/moist or as visually appealing as what everyone else in the world can do so much better. It’s like the time my coworker tore apart and rewrapped all our corporate Christmas gifts for clients because she was appalled at what a sloppy job I’d done. I must say, her exquisitely mitred foil end flaps and creative flair with ribbons was far better than my version which was more like preschoolers playing with paper and scissors. I’m just not engineered to do fiddley.
My idea of artful hors d’oeuvres never looks anything like the symmetrically arranged shrimp atop iced butter lettuce in a seashell glass dish that I’ve enjoyed at friends’ houses. My presentations are more like I went dumpster diving, found some salvageable scraps and arranged them on a platter. Some people even brave the world of hot finger foods and present what appears to be the main course entrée on delicate china plates. Have you ever had those gems of nouvelle cuisine served in individual serving-size Chinese porcelain spoons or in colourful martini glasses with themed toothpicks? They seem far too pretty to eat. Don’t expect anything like that at my house. I’ve been known throw a handful of little bags of leftover Halloween potato chips on the coffee table when unexpected guests drop in for a glass of wine.
My biggest objection to this whole hors d’oeuvre business is that it takes the edge off your appetite for dinner. When I’ve spent the better part of an entire day on my feet in the kitchen chopping, ladling, stirring and otherwise slaving over a meal for my guests, I want everyone to come to the table faint from hunger. Then, whether my meal presentation is a success or not, no one will know the difference. They’ll be so starved and desperate for food they can barely sit up, so whatever I serve will be a triumph. “Oh Lynda, this meal is amazing; YOU are amazing!”
When you come to my house, enjoy those Tostitos and the bowl of Kirkland cashews on your dainty paper cocktail napkin because that’s all you’re getting beforehand. It’s called smart meal planning. And if you have a pot luck and ask me to bring an hors d’oeuvre, I hope you like Halloween potato chips. You can always count on me to do my share.
The other day I read an interesting blog posting on a beauty and lifestyle site for mature women. It outlined different strategies for coping with thinning hair as we age. Many women our age have the added challenge of hair regrowth following chemotherapy when new hair is often quite different from its pre-chemo state. Our once glorious manes are no more and we’re constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance thickness, texture, shine and body. Rogaine is one option for thinning hair, although it’s expensive and with limited effectiveness only for as long as you use the product. The science of hair colouring has made tremendous leaps in recent years and for that we’re thankful. Some women use wigs and others clip mini hairpieces into existing hair. Extensions are time-consuming and costly and because they can further damage fragile hair, they’re probably not an option for many boomer women. But they’re de rigueur in the entertainment world.
Hair products today are so plentiful and economical that most of us have such a vast selection in our cupboards we would probably never have to buy more product again as long as we live, if we were to use it all up. I’m totally guilty and my personal stash is embarrassing. Walking the hair care aisle in the drug store or grocery store is an overwhelming experience that can leave us bewildered and confused. All in search of a solution to our hair issues.
Isn’t it ironic that wherever we have hair we don’t want it and where we want to grow hair it’s like trying to cultivate roses in the desert. We spend hours and stupid amounts of money waxing, lasering, threading and otherwise eliminating leg hair, underarm hair and bikini areas. The brunettes and olive-skinned among us may also fight unwanted facial or forearm hair and even blondes aren’t exempt from plucking, waxing or depilatating mustache and chin hairs. The battles never end.
Where we want hair to grow, it stubbornly refuses. Thick, natural eyebrows are now the fashion. Boomers foolishly plucked ours to oblivion in the seventies, not realizing it was a one-way street. Now we’re experimenting with tattooed eyebrows or the new microblading technique. I must say, microblading sounds tempting but I hear it’s not long-lasting which means more maintenance and expense. There’s a resurgence in the use of false eyelashes, whether glue-on strips or professionally applied individual lashes from the salon. I loved wearing false lashes in the sixties, before I wore glasses and before I worried about pulling out my few remaining eyelashes when I ripped off the glued-on strips. We also have the option of getting our eyelashes and brows tinted at the salon to produce the illusion of abundance. Tattooed eyeliner sounds tempting but I’m not confident about the long-term results, and damn, that must hurt. Do I really want to incorporate more expensive, painful maintenance into my already time-consuming and rather tedious repertoire of beauty treatments? What’s a girl to do?
Imagine if we were all to rise up in rebellion and let nature take its course—let our body hair flourish wherever it appears and let the hair on our heads fall out, kink, break, go white, whatever. What if it became fashionable for women to have a mustache or a chin like a billy goat. Life would be so much simpler and infinitely cheaper, and if we all looked similarly hirsute, we’d have nothing to feel embarrassed about. Imagine being proud of our mustache? “Oh Lynda, what do you use to get that gorgeous upper lip growing like that? And I’d kill to have a goatee as silky and lustrous as yours!” There are certain cultures that consider it a sign of fertility. What a hairetical idea. I like it.
The downside is that our entire economy could collapse. Imagine the billions upon billions of dollars that presently go into beauty products—advertising, merchandising and manufacturing—suddenly drying up, like our skin or hair on a bad day. Although, as they say, when one door closes, another opens. An entire economy built around leg, face and other body hair grooming products would instantly spring up. Marketers would produce bejewelled, tiny little mustache combs and trimmers (to keep it out of your soup—there are some standards ladies), leg hair conditioners, exotic oils to enhance the shiny bald spots on your scalp, and what about those “natural” dyes that will be needed to make sure the ‘carpet matches the drapes’, as they say.
I’d hate to be responsible for such an apocalypse so I’ll just keep those credit cards ‘a smokin’ in endless attempts to not look how nature intended. When I consider my appearance with hairy legs and pits, chin hairs down to my collarbone and no makeup—well, you get the picture. If I follow up on the microblading thing I’ll let you know how it goes. If you are willing to back me up on the natural hairy look, however, I’ll definitely reconsider. And, once we redirect current social preferences on hair, (depending on where it blooms), I’ll start campaigning about those misplaced standards of beauty regarding weight and preferred amount of body fat. I’m going to be busy and I’ll need your support. Are you in?
Canada’s venerable 350-year-old Hudson’s Bay Company (for non-Canadian readers it’s comparable to Macy’s in the U.S.) is getting a new C.E.O. Her name is Helena Foulkes and she comes from CVS, a health-care company with about 9,700 pharmacies in the United States. Since January 2014, Foulkes was the company’s executive vice-president and president of subsidiary CVS Pharmacy. As a shopper, loyal Canadian and feminist I’m thrilled with the news and thought I’d take the initiative on behalf of all baby boomer women and make her feel welcome:
Welcome to Canada. When I heard you were taking over the reins at The Hudson’s Bay Company, I was so excited I could hardly pour my Geritol this morning. For more than twenty years I’ve been lobbying The Bay, making suggestions about how they could improve business and keep their retail stores prospering. And for as many years I’ve been ignored. Maybe we finally have someone who will listen. After all—I’m just the customer—what do I know? I hope you don’t mind me calling you Helena. I feel we’re BFFs since I wrote that complimentary post about you on my blog recently: (Click here to read Brushing away wrinkles and imperfections doesn’t fool anyone.”). I was soooo impressed that you took a stand against digitally altered beauty ads (Photoshopping) in CVS stores.
Anyway, Helena, as I said, my emails, snail mail, blog postings and letters to a series of Hudson’s Bay CEOs have all been ignored over the years and I really want The Hudson’s Bay Company to do well. To make your job easier, here are a few simple things you can do that I guarantee will improve sales and sustain your retail business. This is a simple a point-form summary but you’re free to read links to previous posts with further details about the issue which I’ve conveniently included at the bottom of this posting.
Hire more sales associates. If it means eliminating a few pairs of designer jeans from inventory to come up with the money to pay these people, it’ll be a worthwhile investment. Unlike in European stores, it’s impossible to find knowledgeable staff to assist shoppers in Hudson’s Bay stores. This is particularly critical in suburban mall stores which are severely understaffed compared to your downtown Toronto flagship store.
Make the cash register/sales desks easier to find. I once stood in the middle of the second floor of the Square One Bay store in Mississauga and literally yelled for help. The place was abandoned.
Train your sales personnel to take pride in their work. And what about paying these people a more attractive salary to improve morale? Coming from a corporate marketing background myself, I’ve always felt that valued employees should be treated like clients. Happy employees are the secret to the success of the company, just like those ‘contented cows’ who produce good quality milk. Nordstrom sales associates are trained to walk around the counter and hand me my little silver shopping bag like it’s a special gift and they value my business. I like that.
Up the ante on the on-line experience for your customers. American retailers have nailed this and Canadian retailers are woefully late to the game. I’m a dedicated on-line shopper who prefers to do business with established retailers. As baby boomers age, we’ll come to depend on this service even more.
Speaking of baby boomers—I just want to remind you that we’re a huge, overlooked target market. We have time; we have money; we love fashion. But no one acknowledges us anymore because we’re not the 18-45 demographic.
On the subject of listening, have you ever considered appointing customer feedback mechanisms? Perhaps on-line surveys or better still, customer councils?
I appreciate you taking the time to read this, Helena. I really do want Hudson’s Bay Company to succeed and grow. If you’ll just take my advice, I think you’ll find the boss will want to give you a raise. Feel free to just call me anytime. Let’s have a cup of tea and sort things out. No charge.
Sincerely, Your friend, Lynda
P.S. To give credit where it’s due, I’m glad someone responded to my earlier plea to upgrade the ladies washrooms in suburban mall stores. They were pretty disgusting and I’m pleased The Bay is making an effort to correct this.
Princess Diana once confessed that she enjoyed ironing. I totally get it. Like Di, I find the job of ironing to be somewhat zen-like, calming and relaxing. Ever since I started setting my ironing board up in front of the television to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the seventies, I can honestly say I do not regard it as a chore. But my instruments and environment have to be exactly to my specifications, much like professional chess players, athletes and Glenn Gould. When the world’s fastest typist, the late Barbara Blackburn once failed to meet her usual high output of up to 212 wpm on a manual typewriter in front of an audience, she attributed her disappointing performance to her chair being adjusted one-quarter of an inch too low. We artists have specific standards.
Ever since my Mary Tyler Moore-watching days, I’ve scheduled my ironing to coincide with watching a favourite television show and the time just flies by. After putting up with a wobbly, inferior ironing board for years, I finally bit the bullet and purchased one of those sturdy extra-wide European models that cost about $150.00 and I can vouch for the fact they are so worth the money. It’s solid, has a rack for piling finished garments, an attached rack for the iron and slots in the frame for stacking empty hangers. Of course, a proper ironing board requires a serious iron that can guarantee an abundance of steam. Thus, another serious investment in a Rowena iron. Fortunately I haven’t yet felt the need for a Miele electric mangle for pressing sheets, pillowcases and tablecloths which is fortunate as they cost more than $3,000.00, Other than hotels and restaurants, who uses that many tablecloths?
One place where I draw the line, however, is men’s shirts. My husband’s wardrobe has been carefully curated so his everyday shirts are no-iron and dress shirts are handled by the dry cleaner. Does that make me a bad wife? I don’t mind ironing my own things, but men’s shirts are just plain drudgery. I once had a friend whose husband did all the ironing and he threatened to quit unless she stopped buying 100% cotton blouses. He understood the difference between work and pleasure.
I also have a passion for 100% linen tea towels—not cotton and not 50/50. I like to pick them up as souvenirs from places I’ve visited. It’s particularly satisfying to iron linen tea towels which always look so colourful, crisp and orderly when neatly pressed and stacked next to a pile of freshly ironed pillow cases. I use scented linen water to spray whatever I’m ironing so my spirits are always uplifted by the scents of lavender or ocean breezes. And there’s nothing as satisfying as admiring a line of freshly ironed blouses and tops. Call me crazy but it’s a truly rewarding sight. Let’s be clear. This doesn’t mean you can start sending me your laundry to iron. The Marilyn Denis Show and CityLine are each only an hour-long and there’s only so much I can accomplish in such a tight time frame. We don’t want it to become work and we have our standards.
If you’re a boomer like me, you probably remember the sensational newspaper coverage of a brutal kidnapping in the early seventies. Paul Getty, the sixteen-year-old grandson of the world’s richest man J. Paul Getty, was snatched off the street in Rome and held for ransom of $17 million. The drama played out for several months. Getty Sr. refused to pay the ransom while the Calabrian organized crime ring who kidnapped him grew increasingly desperate. I clearly remember the universal shock and horror when we read that the kidnappers amputated Getty Jr.’s ear and sent it to a newspaper to a) prove that they still had him and, b) to confirm their commitment to following through with further amputations unless their demands were met.
Watching the movie All The Money In The World filled in all the background information that was missing and forgotten about the notorious kidnapping. The substitution of fallen-from-grace Kevin Spacey with Canadian Christopher Plummer was a deft move. Plumber was perfect in his portrayal of Getty Sr. as a calculating, dispassionate, eccentric old billionaire. He protected his fortune greedily while indulging his passion for collecting art with the love and dedication he should have afforded his own family. Casting of Charlie Plummer as Paul Getty Jr. was also excellent and he even somewhat resembled Michelle Williams who played Getty Jr.’s mother. Williams played Gail Getty with just the right amount of angst, indignation and anger. Gail married a Getty son and divorced him without any form of compensation from the Getty family in order to retain custody of her three children. That decision left her broke and incapable of raising the ransom money herself leaving her at the mercy of her former father-in-law.
All The Money In The World is a good movie. Not only do we learn the story behind the story, but we’re treated to beautiful shots of Rome and the Italian countryside. We watch the negotiations for a $17 million ransom drop over time as the kidnapping ‘contract’ is sold to a second crime ring. And, there are the obvious conclusions to be drawn about ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ and the disastrous effects it often has on second and third generations in wealthy families. My gal pals and I really enjoyed our couple of hours watching this movie and I’m confident you will too. We gave it four beautifully manicured thumbs-up.
What could be more enthralling than reading someone’s diary, especially someone who regularly rubs shoulders with the rich and famous? It feels forbidden, furtive, even a bit titillating. We’re discovering that person’s innermost thoughts, opinions and impressions in the context of their daily life. And when that life is one lived in the rarefied circles of Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair magazine from 1984 to 1992, it’s delicious beyond words. Which explains why I binge-read her book Vanity Fair Diaries in three or four-hour bursts until my eyes wouldn’t focus any longer. Brown is responsible for those avant-garde covers of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore and a moonwalking Michael Jackson.
Tina Brown is an upper middle-class British-born baby boomer, educated at Oxford University. At the age of twenty-five, she was hired to revitalize that famous British magazine, Tatler, which she did with skill and originality. Five years later she was bored and started looking for new opportunities. Across the Atlantic, Condé Nast in New York City was looking for someone to breathe new life into their ailing Vanity Fair magazine. After a six-month mating dance, Tina Brown was hired. Along with her husband Harry Evans, former editor of The Times of London they moved to New York, found an apartment, bought a weekend retreat on Long Island and began the dizzying life of news makers and reporters. She systematically dismantled the old VF staff and rebuilt on new foundations with creative people she knew could produce and deliver her vision.
Naturally, any shakeup in business involves casualties. The politics and behind-the-scenes psychological games required to get a successful magazine to print involve a mind-boggling complex skill set of business smarts, networking connections, branding, marketing, creativity and ego management. Any senior business manager will confirm that one of the most difficult aspects of the job is handling the personnel issues and this is particularly true when dealing with sensitive creative types. Toss ego, personal wealth and power into the mix and it’s a volatile brew.
The name-dropping in this book is unavoidable and reading her accounts of interactions with famous people over the years is fascinating. Her descriptions of daily events range from educational and informative to bitchy and salacious with wonderful and rather prophetic observations sprinkled throughout the book:
On observing the working women in the office of her real estate agent: “Looking at all these tense New York women, a little frayed, a little underpaid, enough to keep them hooked on their career path but not enough to finance escape. I felt they are the new prisoners of the American dream, always working harder than the guys and dealing and redealing the paperwork.”
On trophy wives: The perennial irony here is that men still have all the cards. “They can be driven bastards for years and ignore their kids. Then when they mellow out they can have a younger wife, a new family, and all the perks of a fresh start.”
On the pursuit of acquisition: “Without any market research he has crystallized the current longing for tradition and what he describes as the ‘lack of loveliness in the rootless, unbeautiful lives of the modern American woman who knows that deep down all the running is leading every day to a lesser life.”
On dealing with male entitlement: “On the Washington shuttle on the way to Kay Graham’s seventieth birthday party . . . I am sitting across from the Wall Street investor and CEO of CBS, Larry Tisch. He asked me to reach up to the overhead compartment to get down his jacket and I tipped it upside down so all his money and pens and credit cards rained down on his bald head, and he had to grovel around under the seat and retrieve them.”
On working mothers’ quality time with children: “Quality time is a myth. Babies want slow, wasted time together, not intense nose-to-nose ‘involvement’. There is no comparison.”
On (prophetically) reading Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal in September 1987: “It feels, when you have finished it, as if you’ve been nose to nose for four hours with an entertaining con man and I suspect the American public will like nothing better. . . Marie has been able to establish such a pattern of lying and loudmouthing in Trump that it’s incredible he still prospers and gets banks to loan him money. . . He’s like some monstrous id creation of his father, a cartoon assemblage of all his worst characteristics mixed with the particular excesses of the new media age. The revelation that he has a collection of Hitler’s speeches at the office is going to make a lot of news.”
On technology: January, 1990: “By the mid-nineties computer owners will be able to buy everything from their home offices and retail marketing will become a dinosaur.”
On the importance of political skills in business: “Having political instincts is always underestimated as a requisite for hiring. In fact, calling someone ‘political’ is usually pejorative, implying manipulation and distrust, but many jobs are impossible to succeed at without political skills.”
On being patronized by male superiors for “throwing money around” :” As if I am some ditzy girl run amok with the budget . . . instead of acknowledging our 63 percent rise in circulation and tripling of ad pages from 431 in 1985 to 1,193 today (April 1989). So fuck all the naysayers. I am so over being patronized by know-all guys.”
Brown is candid about money issues. She started working at Vanity Fair for a salary of $130,000.00. She’s forthcoming about her real estate costs, raises and salary negotiations. Like most women, she toiled for years earning less than men in her profession who oversaw magazines with smaller circulation, less ad revenue and generating less profit than VF. We’ve all been there, but Brown eventually made the smart decision to have a professional third-party negotiate her compensation package.
I’ve always envisioned being reborn in my next life as editor of national women’s magazine. Not the kind that gives you tips on how to cope with the crush of holiday entertaining or how to ensure your kids get into the best Montessori schools, but the other kind, like VF or MORE magazine, that beacon for ‘women of a certain age’ that was sadly discontinued a couple of years ago, first its Canadian edition and finally by its American publisher. MORE was an intelligent mix of business advice, fashion, current events and general interest pieces for mature women with interests beyond hearth and home—sort of a VF lite.
A few months ago I read The Price of Illusion by Joan Juliet Buck former editor of Paris Vogue and having just finished Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown, I’m reconsidering my career ambitions for my next life. I must say, Vanity Fair Diaries is a guaranteed page-turner. It’s not a memoir reflecting on times past, but an actual diary written in real-time. It reads like a time capsule allowing us to compare how things and people turned out over time. While being editor of such a glamorous and relevant magazine may seem like a dream job, there’s a lot of hard work involved. The constant churn of political manoeuvring, business strategizing and networking is physically, mentally and emotionally stressful and the demands on personal time make home and family life challenging.
In the midst of all this, Brown had two babies, one with developmental challenges resulting from premature birth, and she still managed to maintain her love affair with her husband. She constantly struggled with the bilateral demands of trying to be the best mother she could be and the best magazine editor she could be. That’s a tall order for anyone. I must admit I might not be up to the task, much as I think I would like the job. Perhaps I’ll have to settle instead for living the life of editor of a national magazine vicariously through reading books by wonderful, talented women like Tina Brown and Joan Buck. In the meantime, I’ll just stick to blogging with my staff of one (me), my limited and precious readership (you) and no politics, ego or money involved. Well, maybe a bit of ego (mine) but that’s the joy and benefit of being your own boss.