BOOMERBROADcast

Essays, rants and reflections on life after sixty for baby boomers who rocked life in THE sixties. And lots of book reviews too.


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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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What do you want to be?


The Beatles even wrote a song about it:  “She’s Leaving Home” and it’s one of my favourites.

When young people graduate, they are officially launched and become full-blown adults. Hopefully these two milestones occur simultaneously. But I keep reading about the stresses faced by young people in choosing their college or university career path. They demand greater support from mental health services to help them cope with the stress. How on earth is a teenager qualified to determine what he or she wants to do with the rest of their lives when they’re still coping with acne, learning the ins and outs of the opposite sex and micro-managing their social media profiles.

Even today, at the age of 70 and with more than 40 years of work experience behind me before I retired, if someone asked me what I would like to do with my life I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory answer. Sure, I’d like to edit a leading-edge women’s magazine or write best-sellers that would make me rich. But how realistic are those goals? Expecting a young person to know the answer to that question can be soul-destroying. Pick a course of study that’s too restrictive and you’re denied flexibility. Pick the flexibility of an arts degree and what are you trained for? Not an easy choice.

What complicates this decision, in my opinion, is the misguided direction to “do what you love”. I think that misleads many young people into thinking that’s the key to success. It creates false hope because it’s not always possible to earn a living and support a family when all you really enjoy is playing video games, making music or taking selfies (the Kardashians being the exception to the rule). It’s not always practical or possible to earn a living doing what you love. Aptitude may be lacking. A favourite activity may not lend itself to a sound business case. Loving writing does not mean you’re going to be a successful author. In fact, few authors are able to support themselves with their writing. The same applies to acting, art, music and even technology. Although individuals with strong technological skills have a better chance, particularly if they know how to write code. Sometimes doing what you love must be relegated to a side hustle not the full-time job.

When baby boomers were finishing high school in the late sixties and early seventies, there was not as much emphasis on post-secondary education as there is today. Most of us were never asked “What do you want to be?”. We simply left home, moved to the big city and got a job with the telephone company or an insurance company. If we were career oriented, our options were teacher, nurse or secretary. Boomer guys could work for Ontario Hydro (which in retrospect would have been the best career choice if you consider benefits and pension), become a mechanic or get a job at General Motors. Once that was accomplished, we started assembling the components of what eventually became our lives. There was no great discourse, no years of scholastic preparation, no months of consultation with parents and guidance counselors and no particular stress involved. And since most of us did not go to university, no crushing student debt.

I also worry that extensive post-secondary education may lead some to naively believe that high-paying employment automatically follows. There are many people with several degrees and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans who are unemployable. Women’s Studies and Psychology are wonderful subjects to study but a tough fit in the world of business. While all this pressure on young people to pursue multiple degrees continues, there’s a serious shortage of electricians, plumbers and tradespeople. Not everyone is well-served by attending university and there should be greater encouragement for those who opt for alternative careers. We must remember that educational institutions are still businesses that need customers so further education accompanied by its attendant debt is encouraged.

When I was still in the corporate world and in a position to hire young people, I never looked at marks applicants got in school. Other qualities such as interpersonal skills, creativity, motivation, energy and resourcefulness were more valuable in the world of business. Most of what we needed to function in the working world (with the exception of doctors, nurses, teachers and other trained professionals) we learned on the job or developed through supplementary training throughout our working lives.

In a way baby boomers were lucky. We escaped the “What do you want to be” pressure. We were happy to just have a job and personified the Bloom where you’re planted” ideology. Most often, we were happy to break free of the restrictions of living at home and get out on our own. We worked as receptionists, bank tellers, manual labourers, secretaries or salespeople when we finished school. From there, we ran with whatever we were dealt and many of us did very well in spite of our lack of education and degrees. I’m glad I’m not young anymore. I don’t think I could take the stress of deciding what I want to be. I’m so glad I’m old.

 

 


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‘Tis the season for a Miss Manners refresher


Globe and Mail columnist David Eddy has again printed a letter from a reader frustrated and disappointed that she never received a thank you for a shower gift. Eddy advised politely addressing the issue with the gift recipient by gently letting her know you would have appreciated a thank you note. This should be done in person but an email is also acceptable. And it wouldn’t hurt to remind the recipient that they “should probably send one every time they receive a gift”.

Two years ago I published a piece on the dearth of manners in many young people today. Notwithstanding baseball hats being unacceptable at the dinner table or failure to offer your seat to a senior on the subway, certain lapses are just unacceptable. It’s a parental failure for not teaching basic manners for sure but that doesn’t excuse people for not taking the time to thank gift-givers for wedding, shower, birthday and graduation gifts. If your parents didn’t teach you basic manners, you can easily learn by observing others who did get proper instruction when they were growing up.

My girlfriends and I have had this same discussion many times and since it seems to be an ongoing issue, I’m republishing part of my earlier post. Feel free to share if you can relate:

Thank you for your thank you

In David Eddie’s Damage Control column in this morning’s Globe and Mail a reader asked for advice on how to handle ungrateful recipients of birthday and Christmas gifts who never sent a thank you or even an acknowledgement that the “gift” was received. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends who share this concern are legion. When someone takes the time to tuck a cheque or gift card for a slice of their hard-earned income into a birthday card which they’ve gone to the store to purchase, put in the envelope with a stamp they’ve also purchased and walked it to a mailbox, how difficult can it be for the recipient to email a quick note or email saying, “Thanks so much for your birthday gift. I’m saving for a new bicycle and your cheque helps bring me closer to my goal.”? After all, young people spend hours a day texting.

Hosting a dinner party or barbecue can involve considerable time, effort and expense. Be sure to follow up with a thank you.

Hosting a dinner party or barbecue can involve considerable time, effort and expense. As a guest, be sure to follow-up with a thank you.

With the convenience of email there’s no excuse for not taking a few seconds to thank someone who has done something kind for you or remembered your birthday with a card enclosing a cheque or gift card. And when a friend has taken the trouble to shop for and prepare a lovely meal for you or hosted you over a weekend, a thank you is meaningful. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it doesn’t even have to be a fancy card. A simple email will do the job.

When I was still working, I always took the time to send a note of thanks for corporate gifts that I received at Christmas but as someone who also gave corporate gifts, I know that unfortunately this wasn’t the general practice in business. Boomers are now aunts, uncles and grandparents which means we’re frequently the giver not the receiver and we appreciate the appreciation. Am I right? David Eddie and I think so.

Click here for David Eddy’s Globe and Mail article “How can I get my relatives to show some gratitude?

Click here to order Miss Manners’ Guide For the Turn of the Millenium by Judith Martin from Amazon.


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Help! I’ve O.D.’d on black and white


Oh dear!

At what point does safe, so-called classic dressing become just plain boring? We’ve always been told that basic black and white is a never-fail look for any occasion. It’s safe, easy to assemble and accessorize and we can be assured of never feeling self-conscious. I’ve religiously adhered to that principle for far too long and my closet now looks like a nun lives here. It’s time I kicked the “habit”. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many pairs of black pants I own, not to mention black and white blouses, tee shirts and sweaters. How many times have we shown up for lunch with girlfriends when most if not all of us are wearing some combination of black or white pants and top?

Assembling a travel wardrobe is one instance however when I think black and white is recommended. Who cares if you wear the same outfit several times? You can easily rinse out pieces in hotel sinks if they need freshening up and an assortment of colourful scarves brings a basic look to life. It makes packing easier and lighter while relieving us of wondering what to wear. Easy peasy.

Susan Street wearing pants in Malibu Punch convinced me to give it a try.

Summer should be about colour. It took some mental convincing to force myself to buy a pair of pants at Chico’s this spring in a colour called Malibu Punch which is a kind of coral-pink. Seeing them on a baby boomer fashion blog that I follow (susanafter60) persuaded me that they could work and I’m glad I bought them. And, naturally, I have a million white tops to wear with them. Now, I’m waiting for a sunflower yellow linen blazer to go on sale at J. Crew and when it does I’ll have another piece to brighten up my wardrobe and my spirits. It’ll look amazing with all those black and white pants I own as well as both dark and light skinny jeans.

As a side note, I’ve recently become a convert to Chico’s who opened stores in Canadian malls within the last couple of years. They also have a great website for online ordering. I don’t care for their entire line but some pieces are wonderful for boomers and their pants fit perfectly. Try on a few to determine your correct size as their sizes are numbered 000 (seriously?) to size 4 (comparable to XXL or size 20) with half sizes and include petites. I’m 5 ft. 3″ tall and their size 1 petite fits me perfectly. Prices are affordable and they have great sales. If you visit the United States, they have a sister company located in most major malls called SOMA which specializes in wonderful lingerie. I load up when I visit the States.

Few women wore white jeans and a black tee shirt better than Jackie Kennedy. However, lacking her innate beauty and grace, I need a bit more help. While I still lean heavily on that classic black and white look, I’m making a serious effort to brighten up my wardrobe. Summer sales are now on and I intend to change my habit and go for pink, blue, yellow and red.  Even though I know I already have far too many white tops, just the other day I scoped out a cute little sleeveless blouse I saw in the window at Massimo Dutti in the mall. Fortunately they didn’t have my size or I’d have another one to add to my collection. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I actually have some white tops in my closet that I’ve never even worn. Needs and wants are very different. Can’t resist the siren’s call.

Check out Susan Street’s fashion blog at susanafter60.

chicos.com

 


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Sharing the joy of reading


Not in my world.

I’m a voracious reader but not a fan of book clubs; I prefer to only read what I truly enjoy and not analyze the bejeezus out of it. Reminds me too much of all those painful high school English classes with Mr. Crowther asking “what did the author mean?”. Good grief! Who but the author really knows what he or she meant. I’m just in it for the fun of reading. I have an extensive spreadsheet summarizing books I want to read—recommendations picked up from friends, The New York Times or The Globe and Mail reviews, magazine reviews and other sources. My detailed ‘To read’ chart includes?

  1. the title of the recommended book
  2. author’s name
  3. a few words describing what the book is about
  4. who or where the recommendation came from
  5. the date when I actually read the book
  6. its rating on a scale of 1-10.

I have to keep track because as soon as I finish a book and move on to the next one, I’m challenged to remember what I just read (which explains why when I was in high school in the olden days, memorizing reams of material for exams was not my forté). Does this level of tracking sound a bit excessive? There are so many books I have to cover in the short time I have left on this earth and I’m not about to waste time on something that doesn’t totally engage me and lift me up.

And she lived happily ever after.

Reading is a cheap and effective way to vicariously travel to foreign countries, experience other cultures, eavesdrop on conversations between fascinating people, engage in a plot for the downfall of a corrupt individual or organization, fall in and out of love, learn about strange events or just simply learn something new, all in the comfort of my LaZgirl. As I said in an earlier blog, the best investment I never made was my library card. What a deal.

Like most bibliophiles, I love the feel, texture and even the smell of a lovely hard-copy old-fashioned linen-covered book, but I’m also a huge fan of e-reading. I’ve gone through many iterations of e-readers and settled on the iPad mini as being my favourite digital reading device. While I’m sitting in Five Guys scarfing down forbidden french fries and Diet Coke, I can hide my face in whatever book I’m currently engrossed in. And nothing beats several books downloaded onto an e-reader for convenience when traveling.

What I like and don’t like

Historical fiction is my favourite genre but I also like:

  • autobiographies and biographies
  • books by and about strong women
  • humour (who doesn’t love David Sedaris?)
  • classical Russian literature including Tolstoy, Chekov and Dostoyevsky (go figure??)
  • some of the current best-sellers.
  • I’m a big fan of Canadian and British female writers.

With all those options, I don’t have time for what I don’t absolutely love. If I start a book and don’t love it within the first couple of chapters, then it gets tossed. This means that many books that were commercially popular or acclaimed by the literary big-wigs did not pass muster. So, when I publish a book review on BOOMERBROADcast, you can be sure it’s a book I enjoyed. There are many books I’ve attempted (sometimes multiple times) to read without success and had to abandon for various reasons:

  • Anything by Ayn Rand. Really?
  • Alice Munro is a Canadian literary goddess. But I find her books boring and tedious. Sorry. Guess I’m just not smart enough.
  • Rachel Cusk also leaves me cold. I’ve tried her Transit Trilogy books three times now, without success.
  • I’m ambivalent about Margaret Atwood. I enjoyed her early writing and Alias Grace, but couldn’t get into her dystopian trips. Although I didn’t enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it thirty years ago, I love the television series.
  • The Fifty Shades of Gray series did not make the cut. After the first few pages, I found the writing almost laughable. For those who did enjoy them, more power to you—you’re reading and enjoying yourself which is always a good thing.
  • Surrealism and sci-fi aren’t my thing so I couldn’t get past the first few pages of Harry Potter, anything by Tolkien, or the Twilight series. I’m obviously in the minority about Harry Potter but I did try and as soon as we landed on Track 13½, that was it for me. Moved on.
  • I’ve tried reading Zadie Smith without luck. After about fifty pages of NW I gave up but I may give her another try.
  • I’m very circumspect about anything recommended by Oprah as most of the books she recommends are just plain depressing. When she made a big fuss several years ago about The Secret by Rhonda Byrne I thought I’d give it a whirl because it was about positive thinking. Who couldn’t benefit from a bit of that? Most of the material was copped from other writers and mentors and I felt ripped off. Waste of time. Hated it.

Reading and writing are my two favourite activities, or more accurately, lack of activity. I’ll pick up greasy magazines in the waiting room while I’m getting my oil changed; I’m a magazine junkie. When I enter a bookstore or library I can feel my heartbeat accelerate as I’m confronted with all the marvels on those beautiful shelves. Cereal boxes, picture books, airline safety brochures—put it in front of me and I’ll give it a go. There’s nothing I enjoy more than being engrossed in a good book for hours at a stretch—one of the benefits of being retired.

My personal taste in reading is purely subjective, whittled down after years of trial and error. My friend Alice loves mysteries and fortunately the public library seems to have an endless supply so she’s all set for years to come. Valerie can’t resist a good self-help book and my father, at the age of 92 has just discovered Danielle Steele on his retirement home bookshelves and is enjoying her books. Most of my girlfriends enjoy the same kind of books I do so we trade books and titles constantly. Everyone has their own individual preference in reading material and if you enjoy the same kind of books I do, you probably enjoy my regular reviews. At least I hope you do. I’d love to hear suggestions from readers of BOOMERBROADcast in the “Comments” about books you’ve enjoyed. We’re probably on the same page so let’s share the wealth.


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Want to feel better about how you look?


You’re beautiful.

Who among us doesn’t look at magazines or at our own bodies in the privacy of bedroom mirrors or in retail store fitting rooms and wish we were thinner, taller or prettier. The media sets impossibly high standards for appearance and even though we know those pictures are extensively Photoshopped and otherwise altered, we can’t help feeling like we fall short. Well, we’re not short, fat or abnormal. Models are genetic freaks. We’re the normal ones. Here are some statistics that will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself:

  • Average height of Canadian women – 5 ft. 4 inches. Any woman over 5 ft. 10 inches tall is in the 97.6 height percentile. Now who’s the freak?
  • Average waist measurement for Canadian women – 35 inches. For American women it’s 37.5 inches. If you’ve ever seen the portions of nutritionally poor food they dish out in American restaurants you’ll understand why there’s a difference.
  • Average dress size – 14. For American women it’s 16-18. Are you listening retail corporate buyers?
  • Naturally blonde hair and blue eyes are genetically carried by only 17 percent of the population. Most Canadians and Americans carry the dominant brown-eyed gene with recessive blue-eyed genes declining each year.
  • Fully 90 percent of women have cellulite—including models and celebrities. It’s the product of female estrogen and cannot be eradicated. This becomes particularly evident once we are no longer teenagers.

Magazines and other forms of media have finally recognized that no one can relate to the genetic mutants featured in fashion and beauty ads. We’re now seeing mature models like Maye Musk and women with normal-sized bodies being featured in media. While it’s tempting to scream “too little, too late” we have to take whatever we can get in the battle to change perceptions of beauty. We’ve achieved a tiny slice of recognition and if we keep the pressure on advertisers and manufacturers we can turn the tide.

The challenge now is to listen to my own advice. Every time I’m tempted to be critical of some aspect of my appearance, I’ll remind myself of how blessed I really am. I’m alive. I’m healthy. I’m happy. That’s more than enough and more than many people can claim to have. You’re beautiful girlfriend and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


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Who cares if it’s swimsuit season . . . again?


Seriously??

Many years ago I read about a magazine editor who quit her job at a high-profile international women’s magazine because she just couldn’t face overseeing another annual swimsuit edition. I know how she must have felt because I can’t face another swimsuit season either. All the current magazines are full of tips on how to match a bathing suit to our individual figure types, how to look our best and feel confident. Pages and pages in the fashion mags have been dedicated to the latest swimsuit styles. The tropical patterns and colours are yummy and some of those scraps of fabric cost hundreds of dollars. The Photoshopped models look gorgeous. The reality is grim.

I’ll admit some styles are infinitely more flattering than others, but let’s face it, we’re never ever going to resemble anything close to those pubescent nymphets modelling the various styles featured in the magazine spreads. In fact, most boomers are even reluctant to go out in public in shorts much less a bathing suit. Those with cottages or winter homes in Florida can’t avoid donning a swimsuit occasionally but they’re usually hidden under diaphanous lightweight cover ups when we’re not actually under water.

I’ll have what she’s wearing!

It is virtually impossible for swimsuit designs to overcome what makes so many boomer broads self-conscious about beach wear. No amount of underpinning, tummy panels, supportive straps or bum tuckers will compensate for what nature has bestowed upon us after many decades of living our lives. By the time we’ve tried on dozens of unflattering designs in cramped fitting rooms with unflattering fluorescent lighting, cried a river, paid our dues at Weight Watchers, spray tanned our cellulite and waxed our lady parts to an unsightly, red rash, we’re fed up with the entire exercise. Sure, they tell us to feel good about ourselves regardless of our body shape—easy to say when you’re in your twenties or thirties. I sympathize with that fed-up magazine editor. This summer you’ll find me sitting in the shade and privacy of my back-yard gazebo, wearing elastic-waist shorts and a tee shirt, reading the latest New York Times’ best seller on my iPad mini. The beach is no longer my thing and even if it were, give me a birkini any day.

You’re beautiful mes très chères.