Happy Birthday, Lachlan!

This months’s blogs are all about special birthdays. Two years and almost ten days after Alexandra arrived, Lachlan made his debut into the world on January 31st, 1990! Another cold snowy day, Lachlan arrived quickly and without fuss just about the time I was to lead a New Members class at the Thames Road-Elimville Church. His maternal grandparents were thrilled, as he was born on their 42nd anniversary. On the other hand, Lachlan’s big sister thought the most exciting part of his birth was running up and down the halls at St. Marys Hospital in St. Marys, Ontario, and purchasing kinder eggs at the gift shop. A couple of months later she asked me when we could take Lachlan back to the hospital!!!

Lachlan was the easiest and best baby, sleeping through the night almost from Day One. He walked and ran and climbed long before he reached his first birthday and later proved himself to be an excellent athlete like his Dad. Today he is the Head of the Phys Ed Department and Director of Sports and Recreation at a large American school in Kuwait and recently married his beautiful bride Nesrine. What’s more: he is a very thoughtful, caring and loving son!  Lachlan, we are so proud of you and wish you the happiest of birthdays! 

Happy Birthday, Alexandra!

Thirty-five years ago today this Boomer gave birth to a beautiful, 10 pound baby girl in the middle of a snowstorm! Richard took me to the hospital for 7 am January 21st and Alexandra arrived after 7  the next morning! He actually read the whole of Tolstoy’s War and Peace throughout my labour. I, on the other hand, experienced 24 hours of war followed by blessed peace when Alexandra finally made her debut into the world. So freezing cold and snowy was it that morning that Richard could not get his car started and so had to walk home in the frigid conditions. But it was all worth it! Alexandra has brought us tremendous joy and we are so proud of her! Happy Birthday, Alexandra!

What Baby Boomers Always Do at Christmastime

Recently I read an article about 13 things all Baby Boomers do without fail at Christmastime. Some of the things that were mentioned really spoke to me, while others did not. So I decided to make my own little list, based on what I have noticed among the Boomers around me. I invite you to make your own list as well. What are your favourite Boomer traditions associated with Christmas? Would love to hear from you!

1. Decorate the house — inside and outside — with festive garland, a Christmas tree with Hallmark or other unique ornaments —- but NEVER before Remembrance Day.
2. Set up the Advent calendar with doors to be opened each day up until Christmas Eve.
3. Ask the kids or grandkids to set up Bluetooth speakers or Alexa to play their favourite Christmas carols.
4. Send out newsy Christmas letters recounting the events of the previous year, including updates and lots of photos about the children and grandchildren, describing all the holidays they have taken and the countries they have visited. Describe the walking trips that are planned for the coming year.
5. Stock up on Christmas wrapping paper from the dollar store or Costco.
6. Bake and share in a Christmas cookie exchange.
7. Attend (or participate in) no fewer than three Christmas concerts, wearing your favourite ‘80s Christmas sweater!
8. Watch “A Christmas Carol” with Scottish character actor Alastair Sim as Scrooge.
9. Remember those who are no longer with them at Christmas by visiting the cemetery to place the Christmas wreath at their grandparents’ and parents’ graves.
10. Watch the Queen’s Christmas Message — this year King Charles III’s Message.
11. Buy colourful Christmas crackers for the dinner table and add tiny Christmas gifts to each person’s place.
12. Enjoy a sherry trifle made by a temperance grandmother — rum soaked fruitcake with marzipan too!
13. Hide Christmas Terry chocolate oranges in the house and give the children clues to find them.
14. Go to a Christmas Eve service and sing all the favourite carols. Then come home and hang the stockings by the fire.
15. Place the Christmas crèche — nativity scene— on the mantel to remind all of the real reason for the season!

I will be taking a break from my blogging for a few weeks, but hope to be back again later in January. Until then, a very Merry Christmas and good health and happiness in the New Year!

Science Reveals Why Opening Christmas Gifts is Less Exciting as We Age

Do you remember how excited you were to come down Christmas morning to check out what Santa had left for you under the tree? What fun it was to tear open your Christmas stocking!

When we Boomers were children, the festive season did not begin as early as it does today. Christmas decorations did not start to go up before December and holiday gift catalogues certainly did not appear before Remembrance Day. But that still gave us lots of time to build up a lot of holiday excitement.

Later, when the children or nieces and nephews came along, their excitement became ours. It was fun to watch the wide-eyed wonder on their faces as they opened their presents. Some of you are re-living these moments with grandchildren or great nieces and nephews.

But nowadays, at least for most of us Boomers, the holidays are more subdued. We don’t experience the same euphoria we did as children when we ran downstairs to see what Santa had left us.

But did you know that there may be a biological reason why we may not get as excited as we once did about opening Christmas gifts? According to Steve Connor of The Independent, “the reason children tear open their Christmas presents in a frenzy of dawn excitement while grandparents leave theirs until after lunch comes down to how the ageing brain handles rewards. Scientists have discovered that a chemical in the brain governing the delivery and feeling of reward is altered physically as a person grows old, which explains why opening presents becomes less exciting.”

That’s an interesting concept and I am not disputing it entirely. But is it not also a possibility that the longer we live on this earth the more we come to realize what really and truly matters in life? For me, at least, the joy of Christmas is getting together with family and friends (and it need not necessarily be on Christmas Day) and attending the Advent and Christmas Eve services at my church.

What about you? Where do you find the deepest joy at Christmastime?

The Top 5 Things You Wish You Had Done between 50 and 60

About a year ago my daughter sent me a post from Quora, which raised an interesting question. Basically it asked people 60 years old and above, “what are the top 5 things you wished you had done between 50 and 60 years of age that you would advise someone who is 50 now to follow and not give up? What are the top 5 things you would want to advise someone who is between 50 and 60 years of age?

A cursory glance at the answers revealed that most people wished they had focussed more on saving more money for retirement, committing to an exercise program and taking better care of their health, wishing they had started their own business or that they had ended their marriage sooner. With the odd exception, there was nothing about nurturing one’s spiritual life, building healthy relationships or spending more time with family and friends, making time to serve one’s church or synagogue or mosque, caring for Mother Earth, or practising greater generosity of time, talent and resources to help one’s community or reach out to those who are hurting or need. Yet, the wisdom of the centuries is that these are the things that really contribute to greater happiness and meaning in life.

What do YOU think? What are the top 5 things you would want to advise someone who is between 50 and 60 years of age and why? That was the question I posed one year ago in this blog. I wonder. Now that you are a year older, have your answers changed at all? What advice would you give as we move into  2023?

 I would love to hear from  you!

Queen’s Students Share Myths About Ageing

Recently my daughter Alexandra, who is a graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, came across this Twitter thread where a professor from Queen’s is sharing some work by upper-year undergrads on myths about aging.

I’ve linked to the thread here and also to the individual infographics below. The individual links will allow you to zoom in to actually read what the students’ wrote. Just thought this might be of interest to our ‘Boomerality’ readers! 

Whole thread

Frailty is not inevitable

Myth: Older adults are not crucial members of society

Myth: Older adults should skip exercising to avoid injury

Myth: Aging means being more isolated and alone

When You Were Growing Up, Who Controlled the Money in Your Household? Garmus in Conversation with bell hooks

Last week I talked about Chemistry Lessons, the wonderful novel by best-selling author, Bonnie Garmus. I noted just a few of the challenges that the protagonist, Elizabeth Zott, faced as a woman scientist in a male-dominated 1950s-early-1960s world.

This weekend I just finished reading another excellent book, part memoir and part social commentary, by bell hooks, who wrote extensively on issues of race, gender, class and culture and how they intersect with each other. This now classic book is called: Where We Stand: Class Matters. Sadly, hooks died prematurely less than a year ago, on December 15th, 2021.

In the opening pages of her book, hooks writes: “Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about race or gender; the uncool subject is class.” (p. vii.) But as she notes, we cannot talk about ending racism or sexism without also talking about class. She asserts that the commonly held belief that America is a classless society is a myth, as is the notion that if the poor just worked harder they would be able to get ahead and live a life of comfort and affluence. The same myth is believed by countless Canadians too.

There is much to commend in this little book and I urge you to read it if you can. What strikes me, especially in light of Garmus’ novel about Elizabeth Zott, are the challenges faced by bell hooks’ real life 1950s-1960s mother. Like Zott, she was confronted by the limitations of poverty and misogyny. Unlike Zott, the fact that she was black meant that she also suffered from the debilitating oppression of racism.

Her description of her mother’s relationship to her father, especially in terms of how money was handled in their home, reminded me of my own mother’s situation. As in the case of hooks’ family, my father controlled the purse strings. My mother was given a weekly allowance on which she was expected to run the household. Like hooks’ mother, my mother never knew how much my father earned. Unlike hooks’ mother, she could go back to my father and ask for more if she found that what he was giving her was not enough to meet expenses. (One of my aunts was not so fortunate. Her husband never allowed her to do this. She was even expected to pay the phone and hydro bills from what her husband gave her for grocery money! He then reduced what he gave her once she began to receive the meager Old Age Security Pension, in much the same way as hooks’ father reduced the amount he gave his wife to run the household once she went out to clean houses.)

While my mother, as a white woman married to a middle-class professional, did not face the kinds of extreme challenges that hooks’ mother faced as a poor working-class black woman in the south, she did find it demeaning and humiliating to always have to go back and ask my father for more money. He was always generous, but that’s not the point. She was working hard to maintain a home and look after my brother and me. Moreover, she had given up a job she had worked at for seventeen years before she married my Dad and, while it was not the kind of work she would like to have done (her family had no money to send her to art college), she could feel proud of what she earned (which was more than my Dad made when she married him), an income that also gave her a sense of self-respect.

Garmus’ protagonist Elizabeth Zott found a way out of poverty, which makes her story both unique and novel worthy, the stuff of fantasy, which we all love. But for the vast majority of poor women, the so-called American “rags to riches” dream is just that: a dream. Until we find a way to eradicate the predatory systems of classism, racism and sexism that pervade our society, most poor women (especially women of colour) and their children will remained mired in poverty.

Bonnie Garmus’ “Chemistry Lessons” is One of the Most Delightful and Insightful Novels of the Year

A few weeks ago I talked about Chemistry Lessons, a wonderful novel by best-selling author, Bonnie Garmus.  The protagonist, Elizabeth Zott, was telling her partner that there was no way that she would ever change her name if she married him, even though it was unlikely they would ever marry. Zott saw marriage as antiquated and an instrument of female oppression. Still, they had a close, loving relationship and a real synchronicity that would likely have carried them right through to old age, if it had not been for the unpredictability of life.

So it is that Zott finds herself a single mother to a delightful, precocious little girl in early 1960s California when it was frowned upon to have a child without the benefit of marriage. On top of this, Zott is a brilliant chemist who struggles to be taken seriously among scientists in what was very much a man’s world.

Through a series of coincidences she finds herself the star of a very popular cooking show, Supper at Six. But not only does she teach women across North America how to cook meals that are both nutritious and tasty, she gives them chemistry lessons as well. More than this, she teaches them to believe in themselves and never to regard themselves as just average.

If you are an early wave Boomer or the child of someone born in the mid-1930s to mid-1940s, you need to read this book. It will give you insights into the cultural challenges faced by your mother, which continued to plague Boomer women as well. This novel will also make you laugh and cry. The characters are dazzling, especially the adorable and clever little dog “Sixty-Six”, who knows well over five hundred words! Enjoy!

Baby Boomers Less Likely to Attend Remembrance Day Services

I recently read an article which stated that, while more Baby Boomers than Millennials will wear a poppy on their lapel, the reality is that more Millennials are likely to actually attend a Remembrance Day service than Baby Boomers. This surprised me because Baby Boomers are the children of those who fought and were often injured during World War II. My own father was wounded at the Battle of Ortona in Italy. Many of us also had grandparents who served in the First World War.

When I was a child November 11th was actually an official holiday. We did not go to school that day because we were meant to attend our local cenotaph for a Remembrance Day service. By the time my own children started attending school, November 11th was no longer a school holiday, although banks, post offices and government offices were generally closed in Canada, as they continue to be today. Wisely, I believe, schools now hold Remembrance Day services on the 11th and the children spend the week leading up to Remembrance Day learning why this is an important national day of remembering. I used to enjoy attending these school services and found them very meaningful. I also try to hold a Remembrance Day service at my church every year.

What about you, my Boomer friend? Are you wearing a poppy this week? And will you attend a Remembrance Day service this year?

Memories of Boomer Hallowe’en Celebrations — Hallowe’en May Actually Have Been Good for our Health!

Do you still dress up for Hallowe’en? Do you hand out candy at your front door and put a jack-o-lantern in your front window?

It’s interesting to note that there are a number of studies that show how Hallowe’en can actually help us. According to the Greater Good Science Center, “the psychology of Halloween is not about promoting fear and violence, but rather it’s about learning to control those things.” Neil Gaiman writes in his novel Coraline: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Jeremy Adam Smith says that Halloween movies from the past “can help us face our worst fears.” And Elizabeth Svoboda says “there might be a good reason for our obsession with the dark side — it can help us guard against it.” Do check out the Greater Good Science Center for some very interesting articles that support the practice of Hallowe’en.

Well how is Hallowe’en celebrated where you live? In my small town there are a few places that have ghosts and goblins hanging from their front porches or tied to their trees. Sometimes you can see huge cobwebs draped across their windows, inflatable witches on broomsticks, or strings of small orange pumpkin lights adorning people’s homes. Mostly, however, Hallowe’en gets celebrated in school with parties and dress-up parades.

If what the writers for the Greater Good Science Center assert is true, it is a shame that Hallowe’en is not as big a thing as it was when I was a kid growing up in the sixties. Back then we all went out in our homemade costumes, carrying large pillowcases so that we could get as many (large, not bite-size) treats as we possibly could from neighbours whom we all knew well.

I often remember being invited in to people’s homes to show off our costumes. One man in our neighbourhood even asked my friend Janice and me to sing a Beatles’ song. We were dressed like John and Paul, carrying guitars made out of yardsticks and cardboard. I think we sang “I want to hold your hand.”

We often stayed out until 9 p.m., and parents only accompanied the youngest of children. Those were the days when there were no razor blades in apples, no poison put in candy, and no one thought about peanut free candy for kids with allergies. (I only buy the peanut-free candy now, which I believe is a good thing.) Since we Baby Boomers celebrated Hallowe’en years ago, it has changed a lot. We have to be more careful and exercise more caution than previous generations. Sadly, we know how quickly Hallowe’en and other holiday celebrations can turn tragic, as in the case of the over 130 young people who were crushed to death at such an event in Seoul this past weekend. We remember their families and loved ones in our prayers.

What are your memories of Hallowe’en? Why not share a memory with a grandchild or other young person? Talk about the things they may find scary. It may help them to face their fears and promote healthy self-esteem.

Happy Hallowe’en!