Creamy, cheesy, garlicky, potatoey

Dale and I both love to cook, and I looked forward to spending more time in the kitchen after I retired. I was surprised to learn Dale thought he owned the kitchen, so there was that. Our first argument 40 years ago was how to cut onions, so there’s baggage.

At first, we decided to work separately. His turn or my turn. We still do that a lot, but lately we’ve also been cooking together. Why, we even ask each other for advice and recommendations! Must be love.

For us, cooking at home has always been about eating well. In retirement, I discovered cooking is also therapeutic. There’s a lot of stressful shit going down out there, and I have found comfort in the kitchen. I plan to share more about our cooking adventures on the blog. Of course, me being me, I’d like to come up with some clever name for this section of Retirement Confidential, but for now I’ll just file it under Food & Drink. Eventually I’d like to redesign the blog so you can easily print recipes.

I thought I’d start with this week’s big find! First, you have to understand, grocery stores are very important to us. My retirement relocation spreadsheet included distance to Whole Foods for every location under consideration. We ended up 5.7 miles from the nearest Whole Foods and only 2.6 miles from a local store called Nugget. Nugget is a lot like Whole Foods, but we like it better.

The store features tasty looking recipes on slick cards at the checkout. We pick them up frequently, but never make any of the recipes. Until yesterday. We both saw this one and surrendered completely. It was so creamy and cheesy and garlicky and potatoey – I can’t say enough good things about it. The potatoes still had nice bite to them, and you could taste the Dijon throughout.

We ate it with grilled sausage and curly endive tossed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Oh, and we ate leftovers for breakfast with a slice of bacon. I think it would make an excellent breakfast casserole for company.

Adapted from Nugget Markets

Red Potato Gratin with Gruyere & Fontina

1 ½ cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

15-20 small to medium red potatoes, sliced wafer thin (leave the skins on)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

1 cup Fontina cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400°F

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together heavy cream, Dijon mustard and garlic. Add salt and pepper. Place sliced potatoes in the cream mixture and set aside.

Rub olive oil on the sides and bottom of an 8 X 11 glass baking pan or an 11-inch gratin pan. Place potato slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, overlapping like shingles on a roof. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons each of the Fontina and Gruyere. Repeat this process until you have 3-4 layers of potatoes and cheese, reserving enough of the Gruyere to generously coat the top layer of potatoes. We used maybe two extra tablespoons of Gruyere. But we are cheese heads.

Pour the cream mixture over the top. Dale did this in advance and let it sit for an hour or so at room temperature. I think you could also make it well in advance and refrigerate until ready.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, bake additional 20 minutes until the top is golden brown or until knife inserts easily into the middle to ensure potatoes are completely cooked.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

An open letter to Hillary

I feel so helpless in the wake of current events, in the wake of evil, but I did vote, and I did my best to put people in office who will help us overcome this horrible culture of hate. As I read through accounts about the horrors in Pittsburgh, I saw another article where Hillary Clinton seems to be toying with the idea of running for president again.

I’m a liberal Democrat, but I have Republican friends, and I think there’s one thing we might all agree on: Hillary needs to bow out. I thought I’d drop her a note. Can someone please see that she gets it?

Dearest Hillary,

I have always admired you and happily voted for you in 2016. I was also a fan of Bill’s, despite his wayward behavior. You were a good political team.

But the time has come to tell you to go away. I wanted to see you president, but now I want to see you gone from the spotlight. I don’t mean that in a harsh way. Sure, you’ve made some mistakes, but the hatred many feel for you is completely undeserved. Let’s face it, you are polarizing. Educated people voted for Trump because they couldn’t stand you. I don’t get it either, but there you have it.

You said you’d still like to be president, but for the greater good of kind and caring people everywhere, please let go. This is an intervention – let go now! Stop dreaming about what might have been and what could still be. If you are your party’s nominee in 2020, we will undoubtedly end up with Trump again. Nothing could be worse for the future of our nation and the world at large.

Good job! Has anyone told you that? You were awesome. You still are, but now you need to find another way to express your awesomeness. The single most important thing progressive Americans can do is vote amoral politicians out of office and elect a leader who can bring us together and save this country.

I know it breaks your heart to hear this, Hillary, but it’s not you.



Expectations and cupcakes

With lots of hobbies and interests, I figured I was immune from the threat of losing my sense of identity in retirement. I’ve read this is common among men, but as a career woman, I suppose I’m equally at risk.

While it’s true I’m not bored, and I don’t miss the job or the stressful lifestyle, I do feel a sense of loss. Much as I like the writing of Brené Brown, who says we are enough simply by being, I’m never enough. I’m having a hard time letting go of the idea my life is only as good as my achievements.

I sometimes lack confidence, but I make up for it (or compensate for it?) with deep internal drive. One could argue I have a lot of baggage to unpack, but I like to put a positive spin on my shortcomings. My drive is the fuel that keeps me going when others run out of gas.

The writer Edna Ferber said, “Being an old maid is like death by drowning, a really delightful sensation after you cease to struggle.” I’ve wondered if that philosophy can apply to the loss of identity in retirement. Should I just chill out, enjoy what time is left and start the slow slide into the great unknown?

Probably not. I do not believe I’ve reached my full human potential, and part of me says never surrender. But another part of me is open to the idea maybe you have to give up who you thought you were to become who you are supposed to be. Maybe retirement was the only thing that could push me out of my comfort zone and into a future that is beyond anything I dreamed of.

Whew, kind of deep, but I think about shit like this when I am supposed to be sleeping. I’m not sure where I will land, but I suspect balance is a good thing to strive for in retirement … I do want to appreciate my perseverance and be all I can be, but I also want to enjoy the gift of life with no strings attached.

Although I feel under-accomplished, if I really think about it, I’ve done a lot in my life. Overcame a slow start in childhood and served in the Armed Forces, married for love and still at it 40 years later, graduated from college, earned a good living using my skills and talents, lost 60 pounds and kept it off, survived cancer twice and retired at age 62 with enough savings to live modestly without working again.

Make a list, and you’ll see you are more accomplished than you think.

I’m just entering my second year of retirement. The first year was a period of adjustment with no alarm clock and the joy of being free from all the crap that goes on in the workplace. This year I want to focus more on my transition to Donna 2.0.

In Donna 2.0, I see my tenacity as a good thing, my superpower, that can help me live a long and healthy life. But I’m not going to let it fill me with illusions about what it means to be successful. Maybe I’ll just take that word out of my vocabulary and use my superpower to liberate me from my own expectations, to do what feels good and see what happens.

Starting today! No lists, no goals. Just cupcakes.

The morning newspaper

Dale and I are among the mighty few who still subscribe to a newspaper – two, actually. The local paper used to be somewhat renowned, but times are tough for newspapers, and our daily read is pretty skinny. We also subscribe to the paper copy of the The Washington Post, which provides broader coverage.

We still go out to the driveway to pick it up. Our current delivery person is excellent – the paper is always there way before 7 a.m. I will be sending a holiday bonus. A previous delivery person was habitually late, and I would be camped out in the driveway pacing and waiting. I called and called until finally someone more punctual took over.

In my infinite generosity, I give Dale the front page first. We pass sections back and forth over the breakfast table, sometimes interrupted by our cat, who loves to sit on top of whatever you are trying to read. We both love the food section. I read obituaries and advice columns, and I seek out crossword puzzles and all variety of what might be called soft news. Dale calls it fluff. If the section is called Style or Entertainment, I’m in.

However, Dale religiously reads the comics. Every single one of them, even the ones that suck. I don’t read the comics. It’s some sort of impairment. Against my will, Dale will read aloud from one of the strips, trying to make me see the humor, and sometimes I actually do.

For example, Dale told me about a line from the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. In short, after a discussion about all the things we eat that aren’t good for our health, the character in the strip says he does it anyway.

“Because life is an amusement park.

And while you’ll stay there longer, all the rides will be closed.”

I laughed out loud, but damn, that hits close to home.

Then it was my turn. From the fuzzy animal section, I shared news that a female lion in the Indianapolis Zoo killed her boyfriend. Or mate, or whatever they call him. The father of her three cubs. They’d been together eight years. As I read it to Dale, we learned it was highly unusual for a female to dominate like that, and they don’t really understand what happened.

Dale said he probably left the toilet seat up.

Our local paper also reprinted a feature about NPR’s Terry Gross originally published in The Washington Post. The interviewer said, “You’ve interviewed tens of thousands of guests. Can you share any advice from any of your guests that has particularly affected you?”

This was her response:

Live your life, live your life, live your life.

She said it was a quote from Maurice Sendak, who was nearing death when he said it. She continued:

I do that mantra a lot. It’s just so easy to get caught up in the problems of day-to-day life, that you forget to kind of pull back a little and put everything in perspective and realize it’s the only life you have and make the best of it.

I like my shrinking morning newspaper, those little bundles of fun. Dale and I enjoy the experience of exploring it together. Even if we zip through the newspaper in 10 minutes, the morning doesn’t seem complete without it. We learn new things, sometimes we get mad and we almost always laugh.

All journalists make mistakes from time to time, and certainly there’s bias, but I don’t believe journalists are the enemy of the people, and it’s not fake news. My thought is to pay attention, read broadly with a discerning eye, slow down to enjoy the fluff and live your life, live your life, live your life.

Get a social security account before you need it

I’m 63 and have not applied for social security benefits yet. I will probably hold out for my full retirement age, which is 66 and two months. Before I retired, I tried to create a My Social Security account, but the system didn’t recognize me. I called the social security office, and they said it was probably due to LifeLock, which we have for identity theft protection. The person on the phone said I would have to come to an office for them to resolve my issue.

A year goes by, and my dream of going to the social security office did not materialize. After reading this post about stolen social security benefits by Bob Lowry at Satisfying Retirement, I had additional motivation. I decided to bite the bullet and go today. It wasn’t a horrible experience. They are much more efficient than the DMV, but things didn’t go as planned.

The representative who helped me couldn’t get my account to line up either. He finally figured out the social security system has my birthday wrong. He told me to log in with the wrong birthday, and they could fix it later. I would need to return with my birth certificate.

He did assure me everything else looked fine. Having the wrong birthday in the system only affects me when I apply for benefits.

I mumbled the whole way home about whether or not to log in with the wrong birthday. That idea seems fraught with peril to me. I concluded it was a no-go, but I decided to get this business done and go back today with my birth certificate … which I could not find.

We keep legal documents in a fire-proof safe. Everything else important is in there. I did find a photocopy with my late mother’s handwriting.

Dear Mrs. P,

In the safety deposit box at the bank, was a note that you were given the certified copy on 10/3/77. Where the hell is it?

That made me laugh. I’m certain I must have had it at one time. Surely I needed it for my first passport. To get married? I don’t know. I’ve searched everywhere, and there’s no sign of it. I guess I will have to request a new one. I looked it up online, and the process doesn’t sound too terrible.

At least I have time to sort this out. Even if you aren’t ready to apply for benefits, I urge you to get the account so there are no surprises later.


A few readers told me they were dropped off the subscription list for Retirement Confidential. Most people receive an email from SpecificFeeds. I haven’t changed that. If you are happy with what you get, everything will remain as is.

But if you don’t like SpecificFeeds or you want to subscribe for the first time, there’s a new subscription box on the sidebar. I like this one because the email goes out as soon as I publish, while the SpecificFeeds goes out once a day at a predesignated time. I also like it because I haven’t had any complaints yet!

All that to say it’s your choice. But if you’ve had issues, I recommend the new service. Then you can unsubscribe from the other. I’ll keep both active indefinitely so it’s as easy as possible for you.

Can you still call it a vacation?


Miss me? I spent almost a week in the Atlanta area playing golf with a group of women I met nearly 20 years ago. We are older and not without our share of medical maladies, but we still love the game and had a great time socializing over drinks and snacks after a long day on the course.

We are mostly in our 60s – the youngest 59 and the oldest maybe 72? I’m not sure. We are also mostly retired, although some volunteer, and those jobs sound way too much like work to me. There was lively political conversation, me being the only left coast representative but not the only liberal. There were a few who voted for Trump, but we managed to get through it without fisticuffs. Wine helped.

I was surprised by the cornucopia of shit gone wrong. Among us we had breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, alopecia and a 7-pound abdominal tumor. My friend with the abdominal tumor has a scar that rivals mine – I know because we looked. Twice. She was pleased to see it goes from kind of an outie to an innie after 18 years. I said if you squint, it looks like six-pack abs.

Sadly, I did not take cannabis. For my knees and other inflammation-related issues, I substituted with Penetrex with Arnica, and it worked great. However, my post-mastectomy pain is neurological, and Penetrex doesn’t touch that. I also have a weird neurological thing on my back called Notalgia Paresthetica, which stands for “Itches like a Bastard.” By the third day without cannabis cream, my back itched and mastectomy scars were burning. The stuff works!

In kind of a weird twist, I saw a Gordon Biersch pub at the Atlanta airport while I was waiting around for my return flight back to Sacramento. The brewery was founded here in California, but I’ve never been. I believe they either invented or popularized garlic fries, so I popped in and had some. Yum, yum, yum, although I did have garlic poisoning afterward. Funny I would finally try them in Atlanta.

As for other entertainment, I was #1 on the library waiting list for Lethal White, the new Cormoran Strike novel. I would classify this as detective fiction. This is fourth in the series by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. It’s the best yet (and biggest yet at 647 pages). I was just getting to juicy parts on the way home when our plane began to descend, and I was mad. I could have flown in circles just to keep reading.

I’m kind of whipped after playing golf four days in a row and flying across the country twice. However, I had a great time! I hesitate to call it a vacation since I’m on permanent vacation, but it felt different than everyday life, which should resume today with a long list of stuff to do.

However, I’m on page 545, so I am going to call it a vacation, replete with vacation reading, and I will be extending it just a little bit longer.

Low-dose cannabis mints

I’m not big on cannabis edibles because most of them are snacks, and I rarely eat snacks. That doesn’t make me noble, I just like my calories in the form of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Still, some edibles are less snacky than others and can be an excellent addition to your cannabis stash.

A few months ago, I purchased the Kiva Confections Terra Bites chocolate-covered blueberries because I read they were a good sleep aid. Each blueberry has 5 MG of THC. That’s considered low dose, and would be perfect for many people, but I’m somewhat of a lightweight, so I cut one in half and eat it at bedtime. They are delicious – eating half of one is sort of sad – but I approach THC with caution.

As for sleep, edibles are great, because it takes longer for your body to feel the effects, and then it lasts longer. I occasionally vape a cartridge with Granddaddy Purple, which is known for its sleep inducing properties, and it puts me to sleep, but sometimes I wake up a few hours later.

I went to buy more blueberries at my local dispensary, and it was buy one, get one half off! I was wondering about the mints, and the budtender said all Kiva products have the same THC profile – meaning the mints would do exactly the same thing the blueberries do. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do get roughly the same effect. The mints are 2.5 MG of THC, which is perfect for microdosing. You can always wait an hour or so and eat another one if the low dose isn’t strong enough.

According to their website, Kiva Confections are available in California, Arizona, Nevada, Illinois and Hawaii.

The mints are packaged in nice little tins – and they travel well if you are driving. I’ve written about this before, but I’ll repeat. If you’re flying, cannabis is a risk. The airport in Los Angeles just announced passengers can carry on permitted amounts of cannabis – but here’s the rub. TSA and the airways fall under federal jurisdiction. They probably don’t care about cannabis as much as they care about bombs, but you could run into trouble.

Some places, I’ve read, have an amnesty box, and you just throw it away if they find it. I’ve also read it depends on your destination. If cannabis isn’t legal at the other end, carrying it is just another risk. My retirement plans do not include dealing with the police.

I have a trip to Atlanta coming up and thought about buying some Tic-Tac mints, dumping them out and replacing them with my Kiva mints, but I concluded I’m too risk averse for even such a seemingly low-risk endeavor. Anybody normal would just do it.

Bummer. No cannabis in my travel plans. I can live without the mints for a few days, but what I’ll really miss is my cannabis balm. I use it twice a day on my knees, lower back and mastectomy scars, and it’s life-changing.


Stretch pants

I’m a terrible shopper. For me, shopping is not unlike multiple choice quizzes or the SAT question that starts with a train leaving Chicago at 10 a.m. I may or may not know the answers but always overthink the problem until I inevitably get everything wrong.

Most of my shopping excursions involve at least one extra trip for returns, but sometimes I don’t discover my mistake until after I’ve worn them, and by then it’s too late. Except … I’ve recently learned about 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed. Of course, I’ve heard the expression, but I had no idea how it really worked in the retail setting.

I went to Atheta because I saw some really cool hybrid cargo pants in the catalog. We used to call these stretch pants. They weren’t cheap, but I was prepared to splurge. In retirement, I find myself drawn to stretchy, multi-purpose clothes suitable for golf, hiking or even a meal out.

Again, I always overthink things. I tried on the size 6, and the clerk said I needed the 4. I thought the 4s were too tight, but she said they would stretch. Although I like a slim and sleek fit, I have a history of buying clothes that are too big for me.

I got the 4s home and decided I made a mistake. Drove back to the mall (30 minutes) and explained my dilemma. I tried on both sizes, and they confirmed I need the 4s. The clerk said we stand by our products. If at any time you think they aren’t right, just bring them back.

Came home with the same pants I left with and tried them on again. I decided to wear them for a long walk today, and the 4s felt tight all over and pinched at the waist. The pockets weren’t particularly functional because the fabric was tight across my body.

I’m not one to abuse return policies. But sometimes products don’t live up to their promise, and I kept telling myself – they said it would be OK.

I went back to the mall for what was now my third trip. The clerk recognized me and said, “Oh, they didn’t work?’ I said no, and I feel bad, because I wore them. She said don’t feel bad, that’s our policy, and she happily exchanged them in a flash.

The picture shows me in the size 6. They are a little looser in the crotch, which might not look good if you’re checking me out down there, but I think that’s why they are more comfortable. I feel like I can move in them, use the pockets and wouldn’t look ridiculous wearing these on the golf course or about town. I haven’t gone the yoga pants route just yet.

For my fashionista friends, I am posting a picture from the catalog for comparison and proof I’m not going back to my dark days of baggy men’s clothes. Hers are a little loose in the crotch as well. No camel toe for us.

Now I have pants I like but what an ordeal. All self-induced. I would not want to use the satisfaction guarantee very often, but now I look to see who else has it, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see Ulta has this policy as well. Sadly, that means the hair product graveyard in my bathroom was completely unnecessary.

A scary 401K rollover

We had a money scare this week. It all worked out, but I wanted to share the story because knowledge is power – especially when it comes to retirement finances.

For about 10 years, I had an IRA with Morgan Stanley that was a rollover from a previous job’s 401K. I liked and trusted my adviser there, but I wanted my pre-tax money all in one place, so I rolled over my Morgan Stanley IRA to my employer’s 401K, where it did just fine. I left it there after I retired.

We still had a regular investment account with Morgan Stanley and maintained a great relationship with Bob, our Morgan Stanley adviser. With Voya, I was one of thousands. I always valued the level of service Bob provides and talked with him about coming back, but I wanted to be sure I understood the fees.

Bob presented a low-cost plan, and I decided to roll my savings back to an IRA with Morgan Stanley. My employer’s plan was administered through Voya. I called Voya and asked how to get started. First, they tried to talk me into staying. That decision was complicated by the fact my employer is switching from Voya to another company in January. A good time to jump ship.

The next thing I had to do was get Dale to sign a waiver to the annuity that comes with the 401K if I should die. That has to be notarized and then returned via snail mail. Wait a week and then call again. The next complication is about buckets – not all my savings was in one account. I had my regular 401K, which was called the Salaried Savings Plan. I contributed to that, and there was a company match.

The other account is called the Capital Accumulation Plan. That plan was 100 percent funded by the company, but it is also a qualified plan, meaning it is pre-tax and approved for rollover.

I walked through it all with the Voya rep. Seemed pretty straightforward to me. They would mail the checks to me, and I had to pay to expedite them, and then mail them to Bob at Morgan Stanley. That part annoyed me.

A few hours later there was a message on my cell phone about a mistake at Voya, would I please call back? The rep said they canceled the transaction for my Salaried Savings Plan because the balance included post-tax dollars. I couldn’t imagine how that would even be possible. I had a lot of questions the rep couldn’t answer. I said this is my life’s savings, and I do not have a lot of confidence right now. Maybe I please speak with a supervisor?

The supervisor was great. I explained my concerns and confessed I was beyond the extent of my financial acumen. She said some of my 401K contributions were post-tax. It’s all there, but rules for distribution are different. The good news is I’ve already paid taxes on it. My choices were to take that money as a cash payout or roll it over to a Roth IRA. I don’t need the cash now, so Bob set me up with a Roth. Now I would be getting three checks from Voya.

Good news – because of the screw up and subsequent delay, the market went up a bit and my balance increased by a few thousand dollars. I’ll take it, thank you.

Now I have all three checks, which I will mail to Morgan Stanley. It seems like a cumbersome process, but in hindsight, it wasn’t so bad. I just kind of panicked when they said something was wrong with the money. Yikes! I’m a journalism major.

Lessons Learned

  • When investing your 401K, be direct in asking about fees. You want to understand how they make their money. Read about fees to help you with some of the lingo.
  • Most of the time you can leave your plan invested with your former employer, and it can be a good deal, but they can switch administrators and make other changes that impact you, so pay attention.
  • Understand the buckets of money in your plan. I had no idea mine included post-tax dollars. I didn’t even know that was legal.
  • Be honest about what you understand and don’t understand. Ask questions until you feel comfortable.
  • If necessary, ask to speak with a supervisor.
  • Plan ahead. None of this is fast.

I know there are some excellent retirement bloggers out there who have financial expertise. I hope you will come forward and add your insights, correcting me if I got anything wrong.