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Enjoy, laugh, disagree or simply empathize with those who lived life in THE sixties and are now rockin' life in THEIR sixties, and beyond.


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Dear Margaret: I was wrong. I’m sorry.


It was a scramble to finish reading the book Alias Grace before the television series aired as I didn’t want to preempt any of the deliciousness of the story line. Written by Margaret Atwood more than twenty years ago, it took me a long time to get to the book because I’d been put off by her later writing, including The Handmaid’s Tale. I disliked The Handmaid’s Tale as I found it too dystopian and weird when I first read it in 1986. Times have changed; the world is becoming scarier and The Handmaid’s Tale is no longer as remote from reality as it once seemed. I’m loving the television series and can’t wait for the next season.

Alias Grace is historical fiction (my favourite reading genre) based on the true story of Grace Marks, a pretty, young Irish immigrant housemaid in Toronto in the mid-1800’s. Put out to work by her alcoholic, abusive father at a young age, Grace secured employment as domestic help in a well-to-do Toronto household where she made friends with Mary Whitney, another young employee of the household. Life was not easy for domestic servants and they were frequently exploited by their employers. When Mary Whitney dies from a botched abortion, Grace is tainted by virtue of her friendship with Mary and is forced to leave and accept a position further north in rural Richmond Hill working for a bachelor ‘gentleman’ Thomas Kinnear. His relationship with his existing housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery soon becomes evident and presents complications for the entire household. Nancy is mercurial, swinging from overly friendly to mean and jealous.

In July 1843, while Kinnear is away from home, Nancy informs Grace and the handyman James McDermott that their services are no longer required and she intends to dismiss them before Kinnear returns. Then the story gets muddy. Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery are murdered but no one is sure who did it; James? Grace? Or both? The resulting murder trial is a major scandal in nineteenth century Upper Canada. McDermott is condemned to death by hanging and because of Grace’s vague testimony that was highly manipulated by her pro-bono lawyer and her young age (she was only fifteen), she receives a life sentence in the harsh federal penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario.

The complex characters of Grace Marks and James McDermott make it difficult to get at the truth.

During her incarceration, a number of well-meaning citizens and professionals attempt to extract the truth from Grace about the day of the murders but without success. Many people feel she is innocent and lobby for her release. Famous novelist Susanna Moodie even took a stab at getting to the truth (sorry for the bad pun) in her book Life in the Clearing but it was generally acknowledged that Moodie’s tendency to exaggeration and belief in spiritualism heavily coloured her account. After fifteen years of incarceration, Atwood introduces a character called Dr. Simon Jordan who specializes in studying mental health issues (such as they were at that time). He undertakes interviewing Grace over a period of months in an attempt to extract the truth once and for all. Although uneducated, Grace is obviously highly intelligent and articulate which makes it difficult to sort out fact from fiction.

Atwood’s story alternates time frames and narration. We’re often presented with the story in Grace’s own words as well as from the perspective of Dr. Jordan and a third party. I’ve never understood why some writers eschew quotation marks when employing dialogue some of the time but not all of the time. I suppose it’s a technical issue beyond my uneducated grasp but it does make for a bit of confusion at times sorting out conversations. Whoever said Canadian history is boring is just plain wrong. Just as I was wrong in discounting Margaret Atwood’s writing after The Edible Woman published in the mid-sixties and still my favourite Atwood novel. Alias Grace is a wonderful read. You’ll find plenty of touchstones you can relate to and the mystery surrounding the double murder will keep you engrossed in the book beyond the last page into the “Afterword” by Atwood. Millions of book buyers can’t be wrong.

To order Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood from Amazon.com, click here.

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Gotham Steel’s pasta pot is really cookin’


If you’ve ever checked out the My Favourite Things section of my blog, you’ll see I’m a fan of Bonne Maman raspberry jam, Red Rose tea, FitFlop sandals and a few other things. I can now confidently add something else to the list of items that I love. Perhaps you’ve seen the television commercials for the Gotham Steel no-stick, no-scratch cookware with the orange lining. Like most promotions, their commercials are annoying and make you wonder whether the products they’re shilling are as good as they claim. When I saw a pasta pot with double handles that lock into place for draining pasta, cooked potatoes and other hot foods, I was intrigued.

Who doesn’t love a fast and easy pasta meal?

I’ve always wanted a pasta pot that eliminated the need for a separate colander for straining the liquid, then transferring the food back into the pot for final preparation. Gotham Steel’s pasta pot has holes in the apron of the lid that line up with a drain spout and when the handles are rotated into the lock position, the water can be safely and cleanly drained off. The price was only $29.95 plus shipping and as a special bonus I would receive a 9.5-inch frying pan for an additional $6.95 shipping charge. At that price I figured it was definitely worth a try so I went on line to order and for an extra $5.00 I upgraded the pasta pot from four-litre to five-litre. Bigger is usually better when preparing pasta. Both pieces and shipping came to less than $50.00.

Gotham Steel’s cookware is one of my new most favourite things.

A week later the bounty arrived at my front door and I was anxious to try it out so our menu that night was spaghetti. We boiled the pasta and when it was done, locked the lid into place and easy peasey, drained the liquid. Then, I added the prepared hot pasta sauce (I keep portions of home-made spaghetti sauce in the freezer) into the same pot, stirred everything together and bam! It worked. And I love it. Actually, I should credit my honey as he’s the superior spaghetti cooker in our family. The surface of the pan is slick as silk and doesn’t have the same sticky, porous feel as early Teflon pans. It’s easy to wash clean and I’m thrilled with both the five-litre pasta pot and the 9-inch frying pan.

Just wanted to share this with Boomerbroadcast readers. I absolutely do not get any commission or kickback for promoting this cookware. I just like it and that’s a fact. Some pieces are available at Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond but at a higher price. Here’s a link to their website if you want to order.

https://www.gothamsteelpot.ca/?mid=8859785

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Hillbilly Elegy is a quite simply a must read


There’s a reason Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance has been on the New York Times’ best seller list for several weeks. It’s an amazing book. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, you’ll love Hillbilly Elegy for the same reason. Some might consider Vance a bit young (he’s only in his mid-thirties) to be producing a memoir, but many people including Walls and Catherine Gildiner who was the author of the wonderful trilogy about her early years, have lived young lives truly worthy of sharing. Memoirs by people who have risen above challenging beginnings to succeed in life have always fascinated me and we have so much to learn from them.

J.D. Vance was born into a poor, uneducated, unstable Appalachian family surrounded by a larger community of similarly dysfunctional people. His mother was pregnant at sixteen and although his father didn’t stick around he was never completely estranged. Vance was born into a life anchored by an alcoholic and ultimately drug-addicted mother with an endless stream of boyfriends and husbands, some good but most bad, an assortment of half-siblings and dismal prospects for a better life. The only stable element in his ever-changing life was the presence of an older half-sister and his gun-toting, cussing, mean maternal grandmother who truly loved him. His grandfather, although ultimately living apart from his grandmother was equally loving and loved by Vance and provided a kind moral compass for the boy. He moved back and forth between Kentucky and Ohio depending on his evolving family situation with all its domestic strife, his ever-changing sets of siblings and even changing last names.

Many of the social problems experienced by hillbillies are attributable to their own poor choices in life.

When children are born into a community of people who are always fighting and are disinclined to hold regular jobs or even have ambitions of doing better, they grow up without incentive, without hope and without direction. Those who are lucky enough to find someone in this quagmire of humanity who can see beyond their obvious limits is truly fortunate. Vance possessed a level of intelligence that allowed him to at least finish high school despite poor grades and poor attendance in the midst of his family’s turmoil. Despite their own lack of education, his grandparents encouraged and promoted education helping him by providing a safe home when he needed it, moral direction when he strayed and were successful in regularly putting him back on track. When a cousin suggested the only way Vance would be able to get a college education which was the key to a better life, he opted to pledge four years of his life to the Marine Corps to subsidize his later college education. He ultimately parlayed this into a law degree from prestigious Yale University and through Hillbilly Elegy shares the experience of his journey with others who might benefit from what he learned along the way.

Vance’s enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps was step two in bettering his life after step one which was completing high school.

Vance discovered a world entirely different from what he had always known when he enlisted in the Marines and to a greater extent afterward when he went to university and law school. “When I joined the Marine Corps,, I did so in part because I wasn’t ready for adulthood. I didn’t know how to balance a checkbook” he said. The Marine Corps assumes zero knowledge on the part of its recruits and even accompanied him to open his first bank account. He had received no early guidance in nutrition, fitness/wellness or personal pride during his growing up years and describes himself as a cultural alien. He came to learn and understand the value of interpersonal skills and what he refers to as social capital to help smooth the way through networking. New relationships with friends and fellow students introduced him to a completely new set of social behaviours that were not aligned with his temper and hillbilly upbringing. Most people acknowledge that not all education is gained in the classroom but Vance had no experience with such everyday basics as table manners, how to dress appropriately, how to handle conflict or even how to give and receive love. Interestingly, one of his valued law school mentors at Yale was Amy Chua, author of Tiger Mom.

While he’s circumspect about suggesting solutions to the economic and social problems that are rampant in the rust belt of America, the author provides a rare glimpse into the lives of those people who live hopelessly grim and depressing lives. He knows better than most how they reached this point and why it is so self-perpetuating. Poor life choices, poor role models and social problems breed generations of people with no hope for betterment.  His observations are informed, articulately presented and blunt. What I found particularly revealing was his perspective on how entire generations of rust belt people turned against the Democratic party and put their hopes in the Republicans. Vance explains the misconceptions and clever rhetoric that guide their votes and destroys any hope of a better future. They are told “premature parenthood, drugs, incarceration . . . what separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: ‘It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault’.” Untrue and unproductive.

I can’t recommend Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance strongly enough. I learned so much reading this book and only wish the people of Kentucky and Ohio who are described in its pages would also earn from the wisdom he dispenses. I’d give it 10 out of 10.

To order a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance from Amazon, click here.

To order The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls from Amazon, click here.

To order the third book in Catherine Gildiner’s trilogy, Coming Ashore, click here.

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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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Sharing my secrets to buying a new problem-free laptop


Like buying a car, I don’t need to know what’s under the hood as long as it gets me where I want to go as quickly as possible and preferably without shifting gears. A cup holder would have been be nice.

For many of us non-techies, buying new electronics such as cell phones, telecom services or computers is an experience right up there with sticking needles in your eyeballs. As I detailed in a recent blog “Dear Mr. Gates”, (click here to read), it’s a process characterized by dread, stress, sleepless nights, and hours of calls to a third-world call centre where English is spoken only as second or third language, if at all.  Then, there’s the outlay of hundreds or thousands of your hard-earned dollars, not to mention all the bad swears involved. Sadly, the built-in obsolescence inherent in our electronic devices means we are forced to endure this process for some piece of electronic equipment more often than we would prefer.

I packed all this excitement into a double-header recently with the purchase of a new laptop and the conversion from satellite television to Fibe TV —in the same week. I’d been putting off buying a new laptop for more than a year. My old one was taking so long to process functions I could do the laundry and re-shingle the roof waiting for my e-mails to open. Most of my day was consumed by re-booting and waiting.

I purchased every support option available, which means now I probably won’t need it.

My nervous dread turned to relief and amazement when I actually made a successful conversion to a new laptop. That miracle certainly deserves some post-mortem reflection and good-hearted sharing of information. If it worked for me, it might work for you.

  1. Purchase from a reputable retail outlet that will probably still be in business by the time you get home. I selected the Microsoft store in Square One Shopping Mall in Mississauga because, thanks to our one-way e-mail-based failed love affair, Bill Gates and I are tight. And I figured Microsoft would be committed to a fairly rigid lease with the landlord at the mall ensuring I know where they live should things go sideways.
  2. Try to pick a fairly new employee. They’re more likely to still be keen and not totally burned out by customers humping their giant printers into the store because they can’t make them work with their new computer.
  3. Bribery. When I noticed the sales rep was also left-handed (like me), I gave him my Pentel Energel liquid gel ink pen, specially designed for lefties, from my personal stash. How could he forget such a generous gesture. Anything to grease the wheel should not be overlooked in ensuring he never forgets you and will treat you royally. Don’t try humbugs, though. That’s just sad.
  4. At the risk of sounding sexist, I would ordinarily have preferred a female sales rep assuming she would be more nurturing and empathetic. However, young male sales reps can be more easily manipulated when faced with a gush of old-lady tears, which I was totally prepared to employ if needed.
  5. On the subject of old ladies, don’t be afraid to play the old lady card. When you feign complete ignorance and incompetence the sales reps can be very generous with their time and patience. I find it helps if you speak in a soft, shaky voice too.  And make them speak in language you understand, not technical Klingon.
  6. If Item 5 fails, you can resort to mean old crone. That’s what I did. I made the poor guy read my recent blog posting about my frustrations with electronics (again, click here to read Dear Mr. Gates). Then, I threatened him with my enduring presence at his store if my new computer didn’t work exactly like it should the first time I turned it on. I’m not proud of it, but I think I scared the bejeesuz out of the poor guy. That was probably the clincher that ensured all my old data would be migrated seamlessly to my new laptop. Mission accomplished.

Hallelujah. It works!

It could have been any one or a combination of all the above strategies that sealed my successful transition to a new laptop. I can confidently and honestly tell you that my new laptop works like a charm, just like my old one should have. When my tech-savvy friend Mike asked what I got, I replied “It’s silver”. That’s how much I know about computers. It is in fact an HP Envy 365 Intel Core 17, 7th Gen (whatever all that means) and cost more than three times what I paid for my old Toshiba.  And I purchased every support, replacement and tech assistance option available. I only hope it lasts three times as long which should take this old lady until the end of her time, which I would consider a pretty good investment. If only life were that simple.

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Bringing the world to your doorstep


I may not know how to use my cell phone to its full potential but this is one skill I’ve mastered.

Can’t find an obscure item in the mall or hardware store, or perhaps you’re just feeling lazy and don’t feel like putting your face on to go out in public? Or, maybe what you’re looking for isn’t available in Canada.  Technology has brought us down the yellow brick road to a wonderful place called on-line shopping. Our love affair with on-line shopping has hurt bricks and mortar retailing stores but damn, it makes life so much easier. And with the poor customer service offered in many retail establishments, it’s no wonder we’re embracing the alternatives.

A few weeks ago I wanted one of those tiny paring knives with a two-inch curved blade. It’s handy for certain kitchen chores and wasn’t available anywhere, except on line. Ordered two just to be on the safe side and for less than ten dollars they were at my door a couple of days later. Problem solved. I also follow a website called Shopstyle.com” that notifies me when something I like goes on sale. The site scours the internet for brands and items I’ve indicated I like and automatically connects me with the retailer offering it when it goes on sale. I’ve scored some great Eileen Fisher pieces for up to 70% off as well as deals on my beloved FitFlop™ sandals. Out-of-print or hard to find books can easily be sourced on-line. Amazon’s used books service has brought books right to my door from the U.K. in a few days for as little as one cent plus shipping. Then there’s the fun and anticipation of waiting for your goodies to arrive—it’s like counting sleeps ’til Christmas morning.

Because I use Amazon so extensively, it was worth signing up for their Amazon Prime membership. For $99.00 a year my deliveries are ‘free’ which, when I do the math is still cheaper than paying shipping charges on each order. And, if I could figure out how to use the movie download feature on my iPad I would have access to movies and TV shows as well. I’ll figure that out as soon as I sort out how to turn on my new cell phone. But that’s another story.

Life just keeps getting better. Think I’ll stick around awhile.

This is all good practice for when I can no longer drive to go shopping. While I could take the bus, that involves waiting on a freezing cold or sweltering hot street corner for my connection, then lugging my heavy bags up the street. Letting my gnarly old fingers do the walking just seems so much easier. By the time we Boomers have to give up our driving privileges, I hope on-line shopping has amped up the meals-on-wheels choices and wine deliveries to accommodate our evolving needs. When their drones can drop a DQ chocolate peanut blizzard at my front door before it melts, then I will have achieved nirvana. Coming soon to a door near you—it’s worth staying alive for.

Click here for Fitflop.ca (they’re having a big 50% sale right now)

Click here for Shopstyle.com

Note: I receive no benefits for mentioning Amazon, Fitflop™ or Shopstyle. Just sharing good info.

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Want the secret to a successful career?


The future is no longer in plastics.

If your grandchildren are planning to get a degree in Sociology, Women’s Studies, Art History or Musicology tell them to forget it. They’ll run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree that will never get them a job in today’s  market and they’ll miss out on an opportunity guaranteed to provide even more secure and profitable work than becoming an orthodontist. And it requires fewer years of education. While they won’t be able to put “Dr.” in front of their name, they will be able to work anywhere, including from home or a small town conducive to raising a family, and make decent money. It’s sad to think that some people keep prolonging their education and growing their debt load to obtain a useless graduate degree in the vain hope it will improve their chances of employment.

It’s getting harder for Boomers to keep up.

The answer to the employability conundrum is called computer software programming. Early last year I wrote a piece entitled “Mothers, make sure your daughters grow up to be coders. A recent article in the newspaper said that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million more software jobs than qualified applicants. Enough said. Get those kids out of career paths directed at philosophy, kinesiology or political science (unless it’s for fun) and get them learning to write computer code. That would never have worked for me because I’m a right-brain thinker and could never get my mind around logical subjects like algebra, physics or chemistry. But I sure need someone to help me with my computer issues. And having that someone in the family (a grandchild?) would make life so much easier . . . and cheaper, assuming they’d help us for free. Or, if they could hack into Trump’s tax returns, that would bring in enough that they’d never have to work again. It’s a no-brainer . . . particularly if you’re a left-brainer.

Click these links:

Mothers, make sure your daughters grow up to be coders.

Both my left and right brain say ‘go for it’

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