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Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who rocked life in THE sixties.


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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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Is fashion advertising hitting the mark?

The anticipation of diving into my Sunday edition of The New York Times is what motivates me to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. It’s the size of a fire log and nearly as heavy, landing on my doorstep in the dark early hours wrapped in a thin plastic bag. I can’t wait to pour a big mug of hot tea, toast my only-on-the-weekends white artisan bread topped with home-made strawberry jam or unpasteurized honey and sit down at the kitchen table for my weekly love-in. Laying out the thick sections, I usually extract the Style section for a first perusal before moving on. There’s so much delicious reading in the Sunday Times I can usually make it last until Thursday at which time I pass it on to a neighbour.

In what universe is this ad supposed to make me want to invest in a designer purse?

In what universe is this ad supposed to make me want to invest in a designer purse?

It was a designer fashion ad on page three one Sunday that immediately and intensely offended me. My reaction was the culmination of seeing so many ads of a similar nature. As a baby boomer who has retired from the corporate world, I consider myself a fairly average consumer. The ad that triggered such a strong reaction featured pouty, anorexic teenage girls casually tossing off designer handbags worth thousands of dollars, dressed in barely-there whisps of clothing unwearable by ninety-nine percent of women. I’m not suggesting magazines should feature wall-to-wall hags and crones but a few more Ashley Graham types would help us feel we also stand a chance at looking beautiful.

Why do designers and product advertisers insist on always featuring skeletal, spoiled teenage girls in print ads? Are the handbags and jewelry not beautiful and exquisite enough to stand on their own merit or perhaps be modeled more appropriately by women such as Lauren Hutton or Carmen Dell’Orifice? Has the fashion industry ever actually polled their market recently to find out what we the consumers like to see in advertising? When I was a skinny twenty-something, I could relate to Twiggy in her mini dresses with her androgynous haircut. We were baby boomers and we represented the bulk of the buying public. But time marches on.

Who doesn't love Iris Apfel, shown here in a Kate Spade ad?

Who doesn’t love ninety-something Iris Apfel, shown here in a Kate Spade ad from last year.

Baby boomers are still where the money is but the fashion and advertising industry refuses to acknowledge this. They continue to cater to the 18-45 demographic as evidenced by their choice of models and I’m becoming increasingly more irritated and fed up with the assumption that this is what sells. I’d be much more inclined to buy a handbag, a piece of jewelry or article of clothing if it were modeled by a better version of me, not a waif-like, sulky teenager. I loved seeing Iris Apfel in the Kate Spade ads. Diane Keaton has a wonderful, quirky sense of style and when infrequent pictures of her turn up in magazines I often tear the pages out and keep them in my inspiration file.

Women who are able to spend big bucks on high-end fashion items have generally earned the right to do so. We’ve worked, many of us for decades, to accrue the fashion sense and budget to be discriminating about our purchases. I’m insulted and discouraged that the fashion industry chooses to ignore us. Our fashion tastes range from budget-conscious to designer and every price point in between. Before I die I hope that our demographic will once again be respectfully recognized for our potential buying power by seeing inspirational, age-appropriate models that reflect our tastes, our body types and our budgets in the media. Is that possible? Is the fashion industry really hitting the mark or am I missing it altogether?

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The News. Was it good for you?

It's not hard to feel discouraged and helpless.

It’s not hard to feel discouraged and helpless.

Where do we draw the line between morbid curiosity and genuine concern? Each morning as I read the newspaper and then watch the news on television later in the evening, I find myself torn. On one hand I want to remain informed but on the other hand it’s making me feel ill. Watching the horror show on the American political scene is like driving past a fatal car accident. Should we just politely look away and drive on (after all, we’re Canadian and it’s not our problem) but we find ourselves wondering how two cars driving in the same direction on a sunny day on a straight stretch of double lane highway could possibly have created such a tragic mess.

Then, as I watched the news on television last night, they described a vicious racial attack on a young woman and her mother who were shopping at Hurontario and Dundas Streets in Mississauga, not far from my own home. The young woman, who had spent her entire life in Canada, was physically assaulted while verbal racial slurs were repeatedly shouted at her and her mother, traumatizing them both.

immigrants1Every single one of us is the product of immigration, regardless of whether we are white, brown, yellow or any variation of colour. Even our indigenous people once crossed the Bering Strait or the Pacific ocean to populate this continent. The Greater Toronto Area has tripled in size and prosperity since I moved here from small-town Ontario more than fifty years ago. We have immigrants to thank for fostering this growth by providing the human resources to run our farms, provide us with service workers, teachers, health care providers including doctors, scientists and technicians, for launching small and large businesses and for building a country of tolerance and acceptance.

I’m very concerned that the new order south of the border is bringing the haters, racists and extreme right wingers out into the light of day in our own country as well. The alarming new attitudes and policies being accepted as mainstream in the once-free United States is a cancer that must not allowed to take root. An extreme right Catholic television station is gaining traction and expanding in Ferndale, Michigan near Detroit. Their anti-gay, anti-climate change, anti-feminism, anti-Muslim message is within broadcasting distance. And thanks to the internet the spores of hate, intolerance and racism jump across the border and infect our own country

welcomeAs Canadians we can no longer politely look away and drive on. Much as I’m tempted to take one of my regular news sabbaticals, I realize I have a moral responsibility to no longer simply look away. We have to stop the car and provide assistance. While we may not be able to provide medical aid to the injured, we can redirect traffic and provide comfort to the victims. We can make it known that inaction is not an option. The racist policies launched in Nazi Germany began with subtle changes that quickly escalated while the German people opted to look away in the mistaken belief that they couldn’t do anything about it. Given to understand they were “making Germany great again” they soon forfeited their rights and the cancer ran rampant. Hate often stems from a lack of understanding. We have to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. Promote tolerance and understanding before it’s too late.

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What’s the deal with Canadian weather?

weather1Have you ever known a group of people more obsessed with weather than Canadians? Perhaps it’s because we have such a range of weather extremes and so much of it is shitty. From melt-your-smartphone humid summers to freezing sub-zero winters, we get it all. Maybe it’s a throwback to our agricultural heritage when our farmer ancestors constantly agonized about whether it was too dry, too wet or too cold.  We all know farmers are never happy and they passed along the worry gene to future generations.

The weather report and discussions about the weather are guaranteed conversational ice-breakers and common denominator for all Canadians. “Did you get stuck in that snow storm last Tuesday?” Even when there’s no particular weather to discuss, we discuss it, “Mild isn’t it?”. We are addicted to the weather report and never get dressed in the morning without consulting the radio so we’ll know whether to dig out the long underwear or break out the flip flops. The evening weather reports on television are as vital to our daily functioning as the latest NHL scores and four-wheel-drive vehicles. This genetic imprinting has resulted in certain coping mechanisms unique to Canadians.

Top ten strategies Canadians have developed for coping with our weather:

  1. Tim Horton’s, founded by a former NHL hockey player from the sixties, is our cultural touchstone and year-round mecca for escaping life.
  2. weather4We invented hockey which is played on ice twelve months a year and in the driveway or on the road in July and August.
  3. Insurance companies’ default no-fault policy guarantees no-pay if your vehicle slips on black ice and rear-ends a public bus. Get over it.
  4. Ontario Liberals can claim the usurious price of Hydro electricity is the result of previous winter weather caused by the previous Conservative government.
  5. Icicles are permanent appendages on the noses of Canadian children. Never break one off.
  6. Permanent salt stains up our pant legs make Canadians instantly recognizable in airports around the world. That means we’re not carrying a gun so there’s no need to worry about us hijacking a plane—ever!
  7. Washing your car between October and May is just a waste of money.
  8. We spend $500.00 on winter boots to leave them at the door and walk around in our stocking feet when visiting friends. And, we design the world’s best, most waterproof boots.
  9. Canadians carry ice scrapers and road salt in the trunks of their cars year-round.
  10. Canadian males’ external plumbing is indispensable for thawing frozen car door locks. For those with new vehicles equipped with electronic door locking systems, as we frequently say in Canada . . . sorry!

weather3If a local radio or television station broadcasts fake news of a suspected flurry in mid-July, traffic jams will immediately bring all movement on Highway 401, Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway to a halt. (This can also occur without a snow warning.) And, the snow plow is guaranteed to come down your street and send a four-foot snow bank into your driveway right after you’ve spent the morning shoveling it out. Canadians also take pride in eating in TGI Friday’s outside patio in any kind of weather, enjoying our poutine and latté alfresco year-round.

Perhaps because my husband spent his early years on a farm, he’s a weather junkie. He’ll inform me on a Saturday morning that the “wind and rains are going to start on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.”. I’m expected to mentally file that information and immediately start securing the hatches, tie down the patio furniture and make sure I’m safe and sound inside a hurricane-proof facility within twenty-four hours. He has temperature and humidity monitoring devices everywhere—next to his LaZBoy, on his Blackberry, on his laptop, even next to our bed— so, without ever looking out the window he knows what’s going on, can report to me and prepare us for any potential apocalypse.

weather5I don’t think the great creator really intended her people to actually live above the thirtieth parallel but those hearty adventurers who slogged through thigh-deep snow to inhabit what eventually became Canada evolved into strong, resourceful people. Although why immigrants would choose our shitty winters over a country with year-round warmth and sunshine is beyond me. But, then again, perhaps that’s why we’re so strong and resourceful. Not to mention proud and thankful we live in one of the best countries in the world—despite the weather. But if global warming proceeds at its current rate, we’ll soon see our endangered polar bears vainly foraging for food and habitat on the streets of Toronto and winters will be a non-issue. Now, that’s a truly scary forecast.

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“Odd” jobs build character and provide benefits that last a lifetime

carhop1Reading recently about the summer jobs various famous people had when they were young reminded me of my own assortment of “odd” jobs over the years. Singer Anne Murray worked as a maid at the Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton where her initiation included getting down on her hands and knees to scrub floors. As a result of her strict training in making beds, to this day she rips apart improperly made hotel beds and remakes them before climbing in. Victor Dodig, President and CIO of CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) worked a midnight shift at Canada Packers hanging pork bellies for smoking and freezing. From working as dishwashers, tree planters in the north or delivering newspapers at six o’clock in the morning, every job by every baby boomer left a lasting impression that contributed to these people becoming productive, hard-working and positive contributors to society.

Those were the days my friend. But we didn't wear roller skates because the parking lot in front of the Parkway Drive-In (behind the bowling alley) was gravel.

Those were the days my friend, from age 14 to when I left home at 17. We didn’t wear roller skates though because the parking lot in front of the Parkway Drive-In (behind the bowling alley) was gravel. Customers would leave their headlights on when they wanted service.

When Boomers were young and desperate for pocket money (our parents weren’t as flush or as generous as today’s parents), we would do whatever we had to in order to scrape together some spare change. We learned not only how to manage the money we worked hard to earn, but it gave us a life-long appreciation for people working in service or low-paying jobs who perhaps didn’t have the advantages we did. Because I waitressed for three years in high school, I understand how hard it is to be on your feet all day serving people who are not always kind or even polite. Consequently, I am and will always be a generous tipper.

One summer, when I was sixteen, a friend and I waitressed at a lodge on an island in the North Channel above Manitoulin Island. We were water-taxied out at the end of June and back to the mainland at the end of August. The proprietor took over management of the resort after her husband passed away and her management style ranged from she-Nazi when she was sober to invisible when she was passed out in her cabin for days on end. Like Anne Murray, we spent the summer washing floors, furniture, dishes and cookware, cleaning silverware and generally keeping the place shipshape for guests. When the chefs quit half-way through the summer, we also took over the cooking duties. Imagine an entire summer resort with docking facilities and cabins being run and managed by a gang of teenage girls who barely knew how to fry an egg. Our diet in the staff galley consisted of toast and tea for breakfast with fried potatoes and bologna for other meals. All food had to be boated in so the good stuff was restricted for guests only. We saw no milk in the staff kitchen all summer and we were too young and stupid to steal what we needed from the main kitchen. Strangely though, we had no qualms about stealing chocolate bars and potato chips from the tuck shop.

Chief Dispatcher for Duff's Taxi was . . . me (centre) from age 8 to 13.

Part-time dispatcher for Duff’s Taxi was . . . me (centre) from age 8 to 13.

From age eight to thirteen (yes – that young!), I was a taxi dispatcher, taking calls and dispatching by two-way radio to my mother or father who were on the road in the family business in our small town. At thirteen and fourteen, I worked briefly during the summer in a carpet factory transferring yarn to a large reel for spinning. I was a carhop/waitress for three years and self-employed for a few days as a worm-picker but nobody bought my worms so I had to give that up. Even after I left home, I had my share of peculiar jobs as well as some amazing ones. My Boomer friends have similar stories that would probably qualify today as exploitive child labour but none of us can deny it did us the world of good. We were always devising creative ways to earn a bit of money so we could buy bubble gum or licorice. Nothing is more character-building than having to do something you would prefer not to do in order to earn your own money. Earned money is worth so much more than handouts because it’s harder to come by and therefore more appreciated.

What’s your odd job story? Did you pump gas (back in the days when they still did that)? Perhaps you babysat kids almost as old as you were. Maybe you were an army cadet or spent hot summer days cutting lawns and trimming hedges, setting pins in a bowling alley or helping a local farmer with the haying or picking tobacco. I’d love to hear what you did to earn money as a teenager and I’m sure my readers would too. Share your stories by clicking in the “Comments” section.

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