Kathleen Norton

Archive for the ‘Families’ Category

Retirement paradise?

Just dragged myself away from Facebook where one boomer friend after another is posting about dreams for retirement.

Some are years away from the end goal. But does that stop us?

Hec, no. This is the boomer generation we’re talkin’ about.

There are 78 million of us – we dream big.

Personally, I would like to live in Ireland half the year in its least rainy season and New York the other half a year in its least snowy season – not the best plan since those seasons would kind of coincide (see above for reference to unrealistic dreams).

Every boomer gal and boomer guy’s retirement dreams differs, except for one major similarity – no boomers ever talk about retiring to colder weather.

That’s why I was shocked to read an online article on Money.com called the “Ten Best States for Retirement.’’

Only one state south of the Mason-Dixon line – Virginia – made the “best’’ list.

As a matter of fact, the state I would have voted one of the least popular for retirees was No. 1.

Ready to know what it is? Brace yourself. It’s gonna be a shocker.

New Hampshire. Yes, New Hampshire, the state with the misquoted state motto.

Everyone thinks it’s: “Live free or die.”

But really, it’s this: “Live, freeze, then die.”

We used to live in Vermont next door to New Hampshire so I know what I am talking about.

We took a drive across the border every spring thaw – at the end of June.

The weather in that part of the country can only be described like this: Nine months of winter and three months of darn, poor sleddin’.

As a whole, New Hampshire is incredibly beautiful and friendly and you gotta admire a place where moose sightings and presidential politics get equal billing.

But most boomers I know are hoping to retire to a place where the coldest day of the year is in the high 60s, not the warmest day.

So what gives with this list? According to Money.com, it was based partly on the cost of living, unemployment rates, tax rates, and crime rates.

I also guess that the person who wrote the article also is about 32 and has only been to New Hampshire for ski weekends and hot tub adventures with his college friends.

Under all these circumstances, I can see why New Hampshire came up at the top of the list.

When you can dig out of your retirement place during those “poor sleddin” months, you’ll be able to get a retirement job, be safer on the streets and pay less for goods.

In New Hampshire, those goods would be endless supplies of woolen socks, enough heating oil to fill a tanker, ibuprofen to offset aches and pains brought on by the cold winters and annual airplane tickets south so you can escape the No. 1 Place to Retire.

And so I ask: How’s New Hampshire’s looking for those golden years now?

Ya, that’s what I thought.


If only they worked like they used to.

Before last Friday, I’d only ever searched one parking lot on my hands and knees.

It was way back in college when I’d lost the most important thing in my life at that time – my ticket for Ladies’ Night at the campus pub.

But that seek-and-find mission was a cinch compared to last week. Plus, it ended with a free beer.

The only thing I had to show for my recent efforts were gravel tattoos on my knees and a giant headache because I never found the thing that got lost.

And it was the one thing I cannot live without these days.

I am not talking about my eternally patient husband. I am not talking about the secret stash of hormone survival chocolate in the back of the kitchen cabinet (which had better be there when I get home).

I am talking here about something far more critical to my survival at age 53.

I am talking about my reading glasses.

If you’re old enough to remember when thongs were footwear, you are gasping as you read this and saying: “OMG! She lost her reading glasses! What will she do?’’

If you are 40 or younger, you’ll have no clue why I might have been so desperate to find them.

You won’t understand why I ran into the restaurant I’d just left, grabbed the 20-year-old hostess by the collar and begged for help.

You’ll be aghast to know that I made my daughter, who was about six minutes from giving birth, help me search, and that we had her 2-year-old join in.

“Let’s dance with Elmo!’’ she squealed and ran in a circle.

“Get back to work, kiddo!’’ I replied, figuring that since she is the shortest among us she had the best chance of finding anything down on the ground.

What can I say? I was desperate.

Over the age of 50, you can lose just about any other possession and not go into a complete panic. But lose those reading glasses and your world turns upside down. Instantly, you are Mr. (or Mrs.) Magoo.

You can’t read the stockpile of anti-aging vitamin bottles on the kitchen counter (including the ones that were supposed to improve give you better vision) and you can’t figure out if you’re cooking a roast at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or at 35 degrees for 350 minutes.

Without those glasses, I couldn’t read the text messages and I couldn’t see the little tiny pictures and videos that being sent to my phone.

I got a text about somebody’s else’s new grandbaby, though I have no clue whose it was.

There was also a picture of a beautiful river somewhere, unless it was a picture of a flooded basement.

I think I got a video of my 2-year-old granddaughter driving a toy car. Either that, or it was my friend, who is also short and brunette, in a new sports coupe.

I won’t know until the new glasses come in. Bribing the eye doctor people might have sped up this process.

But it turns out that they are very moral people.

Darn them.

So for the near future, it’s back to tweezing gravel off my leg, remembering a time when a lost pub pass was my biggest problem and seeing the world through a fuzzy and frustrating lens.

They all look so innocent

Let me apologize ahead of time.

This column could end quite suddenly because complete and total exhaustion is taking over my body.

Running a marathon or climbing a mountain did not cause this. Those things are a snap compared to the real cause of my fatigue: A visit with a human phenomenon that packs more energy into her body than a nuclear reactor.

In others words, a toddler.

They are deceivingly adorable little people who babble excitedly and blow kisses even from far away thanks to the wonders of Skype.

But “Skyping’’ does not hurt your lower back. Reality does. And we have a heating pad on its last legs to prove it.

Our path to pain began with good intentions.

“Hi Grandma!’’ and “Hi Papa!’’ our 2-year-old granddaughter exclaimed to us not long ago from the computer screen.

Her cuteness factor was off the charts and before we knew it, the car was packed and we were off to collect some real kisses instead of settling for virtual ones.

Me: “I can’t wait to hug her!”

Him: “Me first!”

Me: “She loves me best!”

Him: “We’ll see about that!”

With all our gushing, we forgot the most important thing – a stint at Grandparent Boot Camp where the motto is, “The Few. The Proud. The Upright.”

At Grandparent Boot Camp, you do squat thrusts from dawn until dusk.

“You wimps think THIS is hard! Wait ‘til you’re squished in some kiddy chair for a tea party!’’ a drill sergeant screams.

At Grandparent Boot Camp, you are familiarized with the operation of a car seat fit for an astronaut.

“Wrong, you idiot!’’ the drill sergeant screams as you fumble with buckles. “Fifty more squats for you!’’

At Grandparent Boot Camp, you take a crash course in complex toys like Potty Time Elmo, whose miniature potty makes realistic sound effects.

At Grandparent Boot Camp, you are immersed in rescue and retrieval so you are ready when a toddler sprints away from you at the mall and does a long jump over another stroller.

“Run you wimps! Run!’’ the drill sergeant screams as you stumble and fall.

Unfortunately, we experienced this very mall escape scenario and it goes without saying that we were not prepared.

“Get her!’’ I yelled at my husband.

“I can’t keep up!’’ he huffed. “Besides, she loves you best, remember?’’

We caught her in the Disney store and then we had to load a cranky, nap-free toddler into a car seat and fill the trunk with a stroller, diaper bag, giant Dora doll, crates of snacks, the stuffed animals of the week, a Minnie Mouse purchased at the mall, plus everything else needed for a 30-minute outing with a 2-year-old.

All without benefit of Grandparent Boot Camp.

Our conversation on the way home was quite different than on the way there.

Him: We’re too tired to drive.

Me: I’ll press the pedal. You steer.

Him: How did we survive our own kids?

Me: We were 25.

Him: Ahh, 25. I miss 25.

Me: This is crazy but when can we go back?

Him: After traction.

Me: And Grandparent Boot Camp?

Him: Definitely  Grandparent Boot Camp.

This 'vintage' roast is delicious!

Marriage vows are heavy on the “L’’ word, which is all fine and dandy.

“I love you. You love me. ‘Til death do us part. Yada, yada, yada.”

But does anyone mention the other “L’’ word? The one that has been known to wreak havoc on marriages since the beginning of time?

I refer to “leftovers’’ – last night’s meatloaf, Monday’s pot roast, Saturday’s spaghetti.

Toss or save? Reheat or chuck?

How a bride and grooms works out those dilemmas tells more about their compatibility and odds of surviving marriage than any Love Quiz that Cosmo Magazine can invent.

Yet, nobody warns them that the honeymoon period for every couple ends the night they find themselves going head to head in front of the fridge over 9-day-old lasagna.

One thinks that lasagna is ”vintage.” The other thinks it is fungus.

One argues: ‘“We’ve got to stretch the food budget.’’ The other replies: “Yes, but food is not Spandex.’’

It is a story as old as time.

It’s well documented that a cave woman invented fire solely so she could warm up last night’s din-din.

But her caveman had other ideas.

“Old meat bad!’ he roared when the remains of a wooly mammoth roast became a minced mammoth casserole.

“Old meat good!’’ she roared back. “And if you don’t like it, invent a PBJ. Knock yourself out!’’

Sadly, things have not changed much and “tossers” always seem to end up marrying “savers.”

Leftovers are always a sore subject in our house, and I wish pre-marital counseling had broached this touchy topic.

We could have done “rock-paper-scissors’’ on other things – like whether we wanted to bring other humans into the world or who would control the checkbook.

In those areas, things have turned out fine.

But we’ve never been able to find a middle ground on the nights when I wanted to toss every leftover in the fridge into one big bowl, add grated cheese and dig in.

I will admit that early in our marriage, I gave my leftover creation an unfortunate name.

“It’s ‘Garbage Salad,’ ‘’ I chirped, thinking I was so clever. “Yum!’’

“I cannot eat anything with the word ‘garbage’ in it,’’ he pronounced and knew he had married a woman who enjoyed the very thing that made him gag: Unidentifiable aging food in little plastic containers.

You should see us on “Clean Out The Fridge Day.’’

“Save,’’ I say to everything. “Toss,’’ he says at the same time.

It’s a real hoot.

We’ve tried to adjust. I’ve gotten better at hiding leftovers in creative dishes, casseroles and soups. And he’s gotten better at throwing leftovers away when I am out of the house.

So let this be a warning to all the young couples out there.

Go on and talk about future kids. Talk about money.

Talk where you’ll go on Thanksgiving and whether her mother can clean the bathroom every time she visits.

But for the sake of your love, don’t forget to work this out, too:

Just how many encores are acceptable for the Sunday chicken dinner.


Treadmills are begging for mercy this month as we all try to reverse the diet damage done around the holidays.

Gateway to holiday overeating

And I would like to say that while turkeys, hams, sweet potatoes, eggnog and lasagna are partly to blame for those extra pounds, the greatest instigator of all that gluttony are sugar cookies.

Or, as I call them, Seasonal Weapons of Mass Destruction.

This is not an exaggeration. These WMD’s may be small and plain and innocent looking. But they are like the marijuana of the junk food world – a gateway to everything that is bad for your hips and thighs.

Think about it. You go to a holiday party determined not to make a pig out of yourself. But suddenly, a plate of sugar cookies is passed around the crowd.

You think: What harm could be done by a little cookie fix?

But before you know it, you’ve had seven cookies, the buffet table looms ahead and you’ve tossed your self-control and your Weight Watchers points guide into the flames of the roaring fireplace.

This year, I thought I’d truly beaten the sugar cookie at its game because for months we’d made a serious attempt to cut back on sugar. We figured that by the time Christmas rolled around, we wouldn’t even want sugar.

And we were wrong.

Not only did I want to consume every cookie in sight, I wanted the house to smell like them all the time so I baked and baked and baked. And when I wasn’t baking, I was snacking on raw cookie dough while I watched a lady doctor on TV warning me of the danger of eating raw cookie dough.

“It’s Christmas, sister. All bets are off,’’ I sniffed.

Being that I am a generous person, I would like to share the blame for my holiday eating binge with two others.

The first person at fault is Martha Stewart.

I am not a big fan of Martha’s, generally speaking, but she is an excellent businessperson, quite possibly the most successful ex-inmate of all times, and as it turns out, a superb hypnotist.

In her calm, soothing voice, she speaks to us from TV throughout the season.

“It’s a good thing,’’ she croons, which is her hypnotic signal for us to begin turning household junk into ornaments, planning Christmas brunches for 40 while at the same time baking 35 types of cookies for a cookie tower.

This year, I made her cranberry sugar cookies to give as gifts. But the only one who received any was me and by the time I was done
“giving’’ myself the cookies there weren’t enough left for anyone else.

But Martha is not the only culprit.

My good friend Ellen showed up with a plate of sugar cookies infused with ginger so addictive that people have been beating down her door for the recipe.

The recipe is below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when the ginger cravings set in.

I traveled miles to find the exact ingredients, one of which cost more per ounce what I spent on all our holiday gifts together.

And now, here I am, killing myself to sweat off the calories that were packed into those little cranberry and ginger WMD’s.

Thanks Martha and Ellen. Thanks a ton.

Or in this case, five to seven pounds, to be exact.

Ellen’s Incredible Ginger Cookies

Note:  Chill dough 1-2 hours before baking

2 c. all purpose flour

¾ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp Saigon cinnamon (or regular)

1/8 tsp ground cloves

½ c. butter or margerine, softened

1 c. Sugar in the Raw

1 egg

¼ c. Dark Karo Syrup

1/3 – ½ c. Sugar in the Raw for coating dough balls

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in medium bowl and set aside.

Beat butter and 1 cup Sugar in the Raw in large bowl with mixer at medium high speed until well mixed.  Beat in egg and corn syrup until smooth.  Stir in flour mixture.

Chill dough 1-2 hours or until easy to handle.

Shape dough into 1” balls and roll in 1/3 – ½ cup Sugar in the Raw.  Place balls 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets.

Bake in preheated 350 deg oven for 9 – 11 minutes or just until golden around the edges.  Cool on wire racks.

To speed chilling, place dough in freezer for 15-30 minutes.

The time: New Year’s Eve.

The setting: Our house.

The situation: Two middle-aged Baby Boomers who cannot remain awake past 11 p.m. though they desperately want to believe they still can.

But no matter what, our eyelids begin to close well before Leno and refuse to open until dawn. Apparently, we need our beauty sleep so desperately that Mother Nature gives us no say in the matter.

She just steps in and renders us unconscious.

What happened to the good ol’ days? What happened to the good ol’ us?

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, our weekend nights routinely began AFTER Saturday Night Live was over at 1 a.m.

And New Year’s Eve was no different. But now, on Planet Middle Age, things are quite the opposite.

I have my flannel jammies on as soon as the sun goes down, which this time of year is before dinner. And he is slumped over the latest biography of Lincoln while I rally to stay awake for “Glee.’’

The last time I can remember staying awake on New Year’s Eve was to ring in  2000, and that was only because Y2K madness and mayhem were predicted.

If we were going to lose modern civilization, we wanted to be awake for it.

Even with that hanging over our heads the kids were nudging us on the couch because we kept dozing off. They were disgusted that their parents were so old they could not remain awake on such a momentous occasion.

Actually, now that I think about it, they were teenagers then and were pretty much disgusted about everything, especially if it had to do with us.

We could have been leading the New Year’s Eve charge at Times Square and they would have been disgusted about that, too.

At least in 2000, we gave it the old college try. We wore party hats and made onion dip and roused ourselves to shout “Happy New Year!’’ when the ball finally dropped after what seemed like the longest night of our lives.

Since then, we’ve called it an early night and mumbled something about “getting over serious colds’’ when confronted by other middle-agers who party on New Year’s Eve because they go by the Second Childhood Approach to Middle Age.

But this year, we came up with a new scheme. We choose to ring in the New Year according to a different time zone.

We decided on Brazil because their clocks are several hours ahead of our own and because it is the kind of place we are very likely to never visit.

A quiet round of golf in upstate New York is more our speed so this would kill two birds with one stone.

We have no clue how they really celebrate in Brazil.

Based on the pop-up ads we have seen for “Brazilian butt lift’’ exercise routines, it’s probably pretty good.

After all, if they can invent aerobics look make you look like that, they probably can throw a great party.

Besides, just saying we had a Brazilian New Year’s Eve, even if it only means we rang in the New Year a few hours early, sounds lots better than the reality:

Warm jammies, a New Year’s toast with hot cocoa and bedtime before 11.


The Christmas of 1967 was the best Christmas ever – or it was the worst. It depends on who’s telling the story.

For a 10-year-old schoolgirl, it could not have been better. I hit the jackpot that year, in more ways than one.

By a miracle, my previously clueless parents had decided it was OK for me to have a Barbie, a doll that in their words, “looked like a sexpot.’’

Now I’m not sure how the word “sex’’ came to be paired with the word “pot.” But it sure packed a punch.

And I miss words like that. It gives me goose bumps when I think back fondly about how parents would shout: “Get in here missy and change that outfit! You look like some kinda sexpot!”

Anyway, Barbie appeared on Christmas morning, sitting in a miniature swing and hanging from a branch of our holiday tree.

I called her Swinger Barbie and nobody blinked. Today, that would mean I’d been peeking at porn Web sites.

Swinger Barbie was a departure from my other dolls, which looked like babies. Barbie wore things I’d been told I wouldn’t be allowed to wear for many years, possibly well into my 30’s.

These clothing restrictions had already caused me to endure what to this day remains one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Just weeks before Christmas, I had been pulled out of line in church so Sister Maria could show everyone what a “good girl’’ should dress like on Sundays.

So even if I couldn’t wear mini skirts, having a doll that did really helped. But Barbie was only the beginning of my best holiday season.

A day or so later, my younger brother raced wildly around the living room and knocked the tree over at a bad moment –just as food was served at a luncheon my mother was trying to pull off for an old friend.

“TREE DOWN! TREE DOWN!’’ we yelled and Mom ran from the kitchen and sprang into action. She mopped up gooey, piney water from the tree stand and picked up smashed glass ornaments before anybody got hurt.

A trip to the emergency room might have been better than what happened next. Just as things were calming down, my younger sister pointed to the holiday guest and asked loudly: “How come you’re so fat?”

The party was over.

The tree wrecker and the mouthy preschooler were sent to their rooms. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. There is nothing an oldest child enjoys more than proof that he/she is superior to the younger ones.

And with two fewer to watch over, I spent the day plotting to get Barbie-like clothes for myself.

Poor Mom had a 7-year-old capable of mass destruction, a smart aleck 4-year-old, an insulted friend, a huge mess on her living room carpet and a 10-year-old who aspired to look like her new sexpot doll.

Plus, there was another solid week left to the school vacation and a huge blizzard was on its way.

Nobody would be leaving the house anytime soon.

Yes, 1967 may have been my best Christmas ever. But I’m guessing that Mom remembers it differently.

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