Adventures with cannabis concentrate for insomnia

I was always a sleeper – used to say when the going gets tough, the tough go to sleep. Stress? Sadness? Pain? Checking out now, thank you. See you in the morning. But like everything else, all that changed with menopause, age, etc. Some nights my brain lights up with activity just as my head hits the pillow.

By design, I never tried prescription sleep medications. Too fraught with peril for me, typically a belt and suspenders kind of gal. That’s why I tried cannabis tea, which is legal where I live. As a novice user of medical cannabis, I wanted something easy and predictable. Kikoko Tranquili-Tea is exactly that. But it’s close to $5 a pop, so I began to research alternatives.

There are many indica-dominant strains to treat insomnia, but one that stood out for me was Granddaddy Purple. Up until this time, I had only used cannabis as tea or dried herb in my PAX vaporizer, and I didn’t see Granddaddy anywhere in the lineup on the dispensary website where I shop. Then one day I saw it.

Granddaddy Purple was listed under “concentrates.” The specific product was a cartridge. I was excited to see it, so I just ordered and didn’t think about the delivery system, other than it sure was cool to have it delivered to my house.

When it arrived, I opened the package and realized I had no idea what to do with it. I showed it to my husband, and he said I think you need a vape pen. I’m like, snap, I don’t want to be the cannabis paraphernalia queen, but there I was with Granddaddy Purple in a cartridge and no way to tap it.

If you are an inexperienced cannabis user, you might ask, um, tap what? What’s in the cartridge? In this case, it was cannabis oil, a concentrate made with a botanical extractor that uses pressure and carbon dioxide to separate the plant material. It produces an amber oil that is vaporized in a portable vape pen.

Which I did not have.

Here it is, the slippery slope, I thought, as I drove to the smoke shop. The hopelessly young clerk asked if he could help me. I had taken a picture of the cartridge with my phone and decided to lay my cards on the table.

I’m kind of new at this. I bought a cartridge, and I think I need a vape pen to use it. Are they universal – will my cartridge work in any vape pen, or do I need something special for this cartridge?

He was super nice. He looked at the picture probably just out of curiosity, wondering what an old lady smokes. But then said, yes, they’re universal. He showed me a selection of vape pens, and I picked a gpen slim for about $25.

Took it home and then had a hell of a time figuring out how to put it on the pen. Incredibly easy, but you know, beginner’s mind. The pen comes with a mouthpiece to use when you put your own oil in there, so think of the cartridge as a replacement mouthpiece. You screw it on, you push a button and you inhale.

On the first night I was still, uh, testing the tool and took several hearty puffs. Whomp. I slept, oh baby, I slept and had a hard time getting out of bed the next morning. No hangover or anything, which is the gift of cannabis. Just a bit groggy.

The next night I tried two very gentle puffs and got a wonderful night’s sleep. I woke up feeling refreshed, and there are none of those odd nocturnal behaviors associated with prescription meds. In terms of cost, a .05 ML cartridge is $40. I’m on night 11, and there seems to be plenty left. Already, it’s cheaper than tea.

The verdict? It’s a personal preference. I like both, but then here I am, a professional cannabis advocate. The tea is a delicious sensory experience, but concentrate is more to the point. I felt like an elegant lady drinking the tea – mother’s little helper – and I feel like more of a druggie vaping the concentrate. But the vape is easy, just keep it by the side of the bed, take two gentle puffs and pretty soon I’m falling asleep. And it’s cheaper, so for me, value wins.

What’s more important, though, is the value of getting a good night’s sleep, especially if you are in pain. Your body needs rest. I feel great! You can follow all the advice and turn off your cell phones, fluff your pillow, darken the room or whatever, but none of that did the job for me. Cannabis is a game changer.

Breaking up with sugar

Eating well in retirement is a joy because I have time to browse recipes, shop for quality food and cook meals from scratch. Friends know I have a passion for real food that isn’t packaged or processed, but many are not aware of my dirty little secret.

Here’s to blowing up dirty little secrets.

It starts with my childhood, which refuses to go away. I continue to process my dysfunctional roots and was reading about family dynamics. I took comfort in learning Chinese parents love their children fiercely, but they don’t say, “I love you.” They show love through generosity, loyalty and food. We didn’t talk about love in my family either, unless it was something like, “I love hot fudge sundaes” or “I love Rum and Coke.”

No problem, because I loved sugar. As one of the original latchkey kids, my favorite after-school snack was eating powdered sugar out of the box with an iced-tea spoon. Sometimes a scoop of plain white granulated sugar from the bin poured straight down my scratchy little throat.

My mother used to send us off to the movies on Saturdays. She gave my sister and me a quarter each, and we could buy whatever candy we wanted at the corner store to take with us into the theater. Back then, everything was a nickel, so that was five treats. FIVE!

I liked my sugar unadulterated by chocolate. My candy of choice was compressed dextrose, sometimes known as chalk candy. Necco® Wafers, Smarties®, Conversation Hearts, Bottlecaps®, SweeTARTS®, candy necklaces …

Even as an adult, I thought sugar was OK as long was you watched the fat. I became a fan of fat-free candy such as jelly beans, candy corn, those strange orange circus peanuts – plus all the compressed dextrose yummies from my youth.

Up until a few years ago, I had a special candy drawer in the kitchen. I figured if I kept my weight under control, I could eat whatever I wanted. I used to say, “Sugar is your friend.”

Then age and genetics caught up with me. My blood sugar inched up toward the pre-diabetes zone, and the doctor advised me to change my diet. Candy, that ruthless bastard, was not my friend. I’m getting older, trying to live a long and healthy life, so I gave it up. I just did. I told myself, “I don’t eat candy anymore.”

That’s not to say I don’t occasionally eat dessert or foods with sugar – and I enjoy wine and beer, so I’m by no means a purist. But I consumed a lot of sugar, and eliminating packaged candy seemed like a clean break. I didn’t have a weight problem to begin with, but over the course of three years, 10 pounds disappeared, and so far my blood sugar is under control.

Easter is my favorite candy season. So easily tempted by the siren call of marshmallow peeps. Last year I fell off the wagon (just a box or two). I saw the Easter candy displays out earlier this week, and I had to walk away. I texted my lifeline.

how about a challenge? neither one of us eat peeps this year?

lol too late.

We agreed to the challenge anyway. In the spirit of continuous improvement. Game on, but I think we’re both a little sad. Breaking up with sugar is like breaking up with love.

Aging badass with beginner’s mind

Here we are older and maybe retired or close to it, so I guess we must be super-accomplished. Go us. But do you ever lay there in bed at night and think you’re anything but? Like why haven’t you figured it all out by now?

Maybe that’s a good thing.

It took a lifetime to learn what we’ve learned, and I wanted to hang onto that expertise like a badge of honor to give me comfort and stature at a time when I was leaving all that behind. Plus, I’m still the driven person I’ve always been – now I’m driven to succeed at something else. Even if it’s just dinner.

As I close in on the fifth month of my retirement reinvention, I realize the journey ahead will be more fulfilling if I go back to thinking of myself as a beginner.

In Zen Buddhism, it’s called “beginner’s mind.” Zen Habits writer Leo Babauta says this:

“What is beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That’s beginner’s mind.”

Babauta says when you practice beginner’s mind, your experiences aren’t clouded by preconceptions and fantasies about the way you thought it should be. You can’t be disappointed or frustrated by the experience, because there’s no fantasy or preconception to compare it to.

While it seems anyone at any age can benefit from beginner’s mind – I think it’s a rather nice detour for those of us at the crossroads of work and retirement. Of course, we want to leverage our expertise as we pursue our post-career goals, but it’s also a great time to practice whatever we are passionate about for the sake of doing it not for any expected outcome.

It feels pretty good to step back and say, “Well, I’m just getting started.”

10 things you can do now to save money for retirement

Thinking about retiring some day? I got serious about retirement five years prior to pulling the plug. Started running financial scenarios, maxing out my 401K, changing my hair.

Changing my hair? What does that have to do with retirement? While no single action will get you out the door, it’s about simplifying and saving, and small things add up. No matter where you are in your career, here are 10 things you can do now to accelerate your financial freedom – or at least stretch your paycheck for better living today!

  1. Keep your hair simple. For me, it was going gray and choosing a style that only needs a trim every couple of months.
  2. Avoid dry clean only. If you must dry clean, extend the life of your clothes by using a steamer to eliminate wrinkles. My portable Shark works great. Women can copy men and wear a cotton shirt under jackets to absorb perspiration – you’ll go longer between dry cleaner visits. I like these t-shirts under jackets – no bulk, and the sleeves don’t bunch.
  3. Max out your 401K if you have one. With every raise, take a percentage and apply that to your 401K until it’s maxed out at $18,500 annually. If you are over 50, you’re entitled to catch-up contributions, which max out at $6,000.
  4. Quit buying extra handbags, statement jewelry and other accessories. Find a few signature pieces that make you feel great and leave the rest at the stores. Shopping is not a hobby.
  5. Bring your lunch. You’ll feel better, too.
  6. Back away from Starbucks – it’s easy to spend $10 a day on this habit.
  7. Use public transit. I rode the bus to avoid a long commute, but it ended up saving me a ton of money and wear and tear on my car – my company even paid for the bus pass.
  8. Skip color on your nails. Enjoy a professional mani-pedi, but get your nails buffed shiny, and you can go longer between visits. Some salons charge an extra $5 for the buff, but you’ll save money in the long run.
  9. Stop drinking sodas. Drink water instead, and use a water bottle with a filter so you can refill it just about anywhere. I like this one.
  10. Pass on injectables and expensive anti-aging face creams. If you are lucky, you are going to get old anyway.

I’ve always been reasonably frugal, but I’ve also wasted money. I came from a low-income family, joined the Army and went to college on the G.I. Bill. Once I got a good job and started making money, it was all too easy to reward myself for hard work because, “I can afford it, and I deserve it.” You think more stuff will make you happy, but it doesn’t. Reward yourself by saving!

One could argue planning for retirement is a matter of privilege, and I agree, but I also believe people from all walks of life value freedom on whatever terms they can grab it. I am grateful for my career and happy I saved enough money to end it so I can live differently and reinvent myself as I age.


A sense of community for older cannabis users

Yesterday my husband and I went wine tasting at a local vineyard. Such a hard life.

We ended up chatting with the winemaker, who looked to be a Boomer like us. He was talking about his bumper crop of Meyer lemons, so I mentioned my homemade Meyer Lemon-Ginger Drink. I was going to leave it at that, but then I thought, hey, cannabis is legal. I told him I added cannabis tincture to it and drank a shot every morning like vitamin juice.

His eyes lit up, and he started to whisper. Then he stopped. Oh, he said, we don’t have to whisper anymore! We spent the next 30 minutes talking about tincture recipes and edibles you can make at home. Somehow it makes sense a winemaker would be into cannabis concoctions.

This was the first time I’ve had a public conversation with anyone about using cannabis, and it felt great to have that sense of community, the sense we are all in this together, just doing our best to figure out how to deal with life, health and the crap that happens to your body as you get older.

Pain, insomnia and anxiety are among the many ailments that can impact our ability to feel wonderful, especially as we age. I started using cannabis after I retired to treat post-mastectomy pain. Small doses fixed me right up and left me feeling happier than I knew was possible. Like, wow, is this how I was supposed to feel all along?

Although I like cannabis tea and have written about it here and here, I also bought a PAX 2 vaporizer, which is quite small and ideal for microdosing. The PAX 2 vaporizes dried herb, which is the good old-fashioned pot most of us are familiar with.

My PAX is perfect and beautiful – I bought silver to match my hair. I had to buy a little tool to grind the flowers, but that’s it. You put the ground up herb in the chamber, press a button and the PAX heats up. When the lights are green, it’s ready. I just take two or three small puffs and then turn it off again. I purchased the PAX and the grinder at a local smoke shop, but you can easily get everything you need online.

The hardest part is figuring out which strain of cannabis to buy. I found one strain that eases pain and anxiety and another one that gives me energy and focus. This weekend I’ll be trying one that purportedly helps with sleep. I do have my beloved sleep tea, but I’d like options.

It’s different everywhere you live, but California makes it easy. I still have not set foot in an actual dispensary. I order from a website, and they deliver it to my house. You even get a free sample called the Early Bird Special if you order before noon! Who knew I’d retire and start loving the Early Bird Special?

Yes, I am now a cannabis advocate. It’s crazy to say it in my outside voice, because there’s still this perception cannabis users are part of a seedy drug culture. That is changing. Surveys now show most Americans favor legalizing marijuana. And more of us are using it in a mindful way that defies the image of stoners with bongs as big as Atlanta.

If you haven’t checked out my Retirement Confidential FaceBook page, I urge you to go there and maybe even Follow or Like it. I post additional content on FB that doesn’t make it onto the blog – articles about baby boomers using cannabis and other stories about aging, eating well and otherwise loving life.

Wouldn’t it be great to find our tribe and be part of a community where we can go and feel connected with other open-minded people who want to age with health, happiness and possibly cannabis?


Looking for money

My mother and I used to go for long walks, usually ending up at one of the strip malls that punctuated our southern California town. As we stood on the front porch ready to go, she’d lock the door, check it and recheck it before turning to me to share her time-honored parental advice:

Remember. Look for money.

Seriously. Mom’s thing was to look for money as we walked, I guess because there was never enough. And the funny thing is – we usually found it! Scattered coins in the sidewalk cracks, a dollar blowing in the breeze. Once we found two $5 bills, and it was as though we’d won the lottery.

Sometimes we’d celebrate with a bite to eat at the dime store lunch counter. Was it J.J. Newberry or Woolworth’s? I can’t remember, and they’re both gone now. Mom got Jello because it wasn’t fattening. Grilled cheese for me because it was cheap.

Money was in short supply at our house, and perhaps that is why I grew up obsessed with making sure I had enough. And with this mindset, it’s easy to believe there will never be enough. No sacrifice to great, no cushion to thick – more money always wins.

Some baby boomers are reluctant to retire, in part because they haven’t saved enough and in part because they can’t give it up. Boomers say it’s the work they can’t give up, and I get that, because what we do for a living is part of our identity. But I also wonder if it’s the need to make money and the habit of spending money we can’t quite quit.

Only in the last few years did I begin to reconsider my relationship with money. I had a nice nest egg from years of saving, and that helped. But as I closed in on the concept of retirement, it occurred to me I could feel more secure with that nest egg if I spent less. You don’t need as much stuff as you think.

It is scary when the regular paychecks stop. I’m not super-frugal, and I’m not a financial whiz. Preparing for retirement was more about changing my mindset … believing I could live differently and gain back what we used to call a life. Time to sleep late, read, write and cook from scratch. Meet with friends, volunteer, maybe a little side hustle just in case.

I still love my long walks, and now I have time for them. Sometimes I enjoy a mindless loop, and other times I like walking toward a destination. There’s a little strip mall at the bottom of the hill, and I often think about stopping for a bite to eat. For now, I just keep going, occasionally scanning the grass that lines the sidewalk, looking for money.




Finding a place to call home

After relocating more than 20 times in my career, we moved to the Bay Area for my last job. I’m from California and wanted to come back, but I turned it down twice. I was in my late 50s and most people my age are moving in the other direction. But I needed the job. My husband and I did the math, and we finally said whatever, we’ll buy a house we can never pay off in our lifetime and then move again when I ultimately retire.

I remember making the decision – cracking open a beer and taking that first cold draw. I suddenly heard my late mother’s voice, and she said, “It’s OK. You can come home.” I broke out in tears.

My husband and I bought a ridiculously expensive “starter” home south of San Jose, and I rode the bus to Silicon Valley and back every day. It could have been worse, but I do think the commute hastened my retirement. It was 2.5 hours a day on the bus, and I wanted more mellow in my life.

Oh, but we were hooked on California … as in not leaving again. I created a spreadsheet, and we started to search for a less expensive part of California. It does exist. We chose a community in the foothills of the Sierra mountains. The realtor assumed we would want new construction. Perhaps thinking the house wouldn’t have time to fall apart before we did. However, we didn’t like new construction neighborhoods. We liked big trees and old camellias.

Still, new construction was tempting. They were staged to perfection and super glamorous, but the problem is we aren’t. Like us, our furniture is old and well-traveled with stories to tell. I just couldn’t see our weathered stuff in these shiny digs.

We ended up purchasing an 18-year-old house in an established neighborhood with mostly original owners. Kids walk to the nearby schools, and we can hear the band practice at night. The tile floor has some chips. Wood cabinets are worn, and there are dings on the walls and around the baseboards. Our furniture looks great, and the cat is happy.

Dale and I were tidying up this morning, and I said, “You know what else I love about this place? It looks like we’ve been here 20 years and just stayed after the kids left. As though we’ve been here all along.”

After a lifetime on the move, maybe this is what home feels like.

Mastectomy without reconstruction is a choice

If you know me, it came as no surprise I would have a mastectomy without reconstruction. Oh, there’s Donna, that independent cuss. You would also know my favorite TV show is Chopped, hence the swag. The hat was a gift when I was on medical leave, and at the time, I didn’t think anything about it. In hindsight, it’s pretty funny, and wearing the hat today was just another twisted coincidence.

Getting chopped on the Food Network show or in real life is no fun. For those who face breast cancer treatment or may someday wrestle with this decision, I wanted to share my reasons for taking this path and how I have fared without breasts. It’s called going flat. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a viable option for many, including BRCA-positives who are considering prophylactic mastectomy to reduce risk.

First of all, I had some history. In 1999, I was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer. Two surgeries took a toll, and I had hoped to spend the rest of my life anywhere but in the operating room. Then in 2015, I was diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer. Typical treatment for my diagnosis is lumpectomy and radiation, however, I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation.

The doctor said with my history of ovarian cancer and now knowing I was BRCA-positive, we would have to be aggressive, since the cancer was more likely to come back and not play nice next time around. My treatment would be bilateral mastectomy.

I can’t remember how it occurred to me I might not need breasts, but here’s the executive summary:

  • My overriding thought was to spend as little time as possible being down for the count.
  • No reconstruction translated to less time in the hospital.
  • I saw implants as something alien that wouldn’t feel like real breasts anyway.
  • Would implants interfere with my golf swing?
  • Implants don’t last forever, so that’s another hospital visit down the road.
  • I didn’t like the image of my future 70-something body with 30-something breasts.

My husband and I discussed it. He was shocked but then got used to the idea and said he would support whatever I decided. He has always been a leg man, anyway. I found inspiring pictures of “Flat & Fabulous” women on the Internet. I saw beautiful chest tattoos and that little rebel in me said, hell, yeah, so I put that idea on the back burner for future consideration.

I’ve heard some doctors argue with a patient who doesn’t want reconstruction. They assume you will regret it, but my doctor had no concerns. He knew I already survived ovarian cancer against all odds, and he knew I wasn’t there to fool around. I said make me look like a 10-year-old boy – I don’t want a bunch of skin leftover in case I change my mind. He said OK.

Some women have parties to say farewell to their breasts, complete with boobie party favors and whatnot. But I was never one to celebrate breast-focused culture and loathed references to ta-tas or girls. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t such a big deal for me. I got the sleek look I was going for, and I’ve never looked back. I didn’t bother to get fitted for a prosthesis.

Aside from the lingering issues of post-mastectomy pain, I’m comfortable where I ended up. It’s fabulous not to wear bras or worry about buying bras, which is right up there with root canals. Clothes and swimsuits can be challenging but not a deal breaker. I favor close-fitting tops that don’t attempt to hide my flatness.

I’ve had a few looks, but honestly, people are self-absorbed and don’t notice. A woman on the golf course asked me if I was a breast cancer survivor because she noticed I was flat. That’s it. No one has said anything awful to me – though I’ve heard some people are horrified by breastlessness and angry with those of us who dare to appear in public. I hang with a different crowd.

The tattoo idea is still out there, but I’m not sure I need it. When I look in the mirror, I’m a scarred up mess, but I’m alive and already highly decorated.

A low-maintenance undo hairdo for retirement

Have you thought about what your hair might look like as you get older?

My hair started planning for retirement before I did. I stopped dying it in 2008, partly because I didn’t want to mess with chemicals anymore and partly because I didn’t want to waste time and money at the salon. I ended up liking my natural color better than the patented brown dye job with blonde highlights.

First I went gray, then I went short and then I went long. I always had bangs because they were comforting – I didn’t like seeing my aging face exposed. But bangs require trims, which is just one more thing. I also wear hats, and I find bangs and hats don’t mix well. So, I grew out my bangs, made peace with my face and ended up with a long bob.

This is what I call retirement hair. No dye and only needs a haircut every couple of months. It’s the low-maintenance money-saving undo hairdo. I have fine fairy hair. Is it ideal? No. I’ve learned to embrace my hair’s natural qualities and just let it do what it wants. No blow dryer, no curling iron, no other products.

My hair is dry. I shampoo and condition in the evenings about twice a week. I might have retired earlier if I hadn’t spent so much money on useless hair products. I finally settled on Klorane, which I buy at Ulta. Klorane products don’t have silicones, so it took a few weeks for my hair to adjust, but now I really like how it looks and feels. Sometimes there’s a little frizz – so what.

I go to bed with it damp, and whatever I wake up with, is whatever I wake up with. The picture above is second-day hair. If for some reason I don’t like the way it looks down, I put it in my trusty man bun – otherwise known as a messy bun. That’s it!

I’m currently using the Klorane shampoo and conditioner with mango. Every couple of weeks, I use the whitening shampoo with Centaury, which I have found to be much better than any of the purple shampoos I’ve used in the past. And it smells divine.

How do you want your hair to evolve as you get older? I know there are men reading this and thinking, I’d just like to have hair. There are women thinking that, too! We’ve been torturing our heads for years, and chances are, these precious follicles could use a break in retirement. Learn to love what you have (or don’t have) and go enjoy the rest of your life!