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Archive for March 2012

In praise of old buildings

The older I get, the more I love the old buildings still standing in Spokane. I was fortunate to go to high school at Marycliff, in historic old buildings on Spokane's lower South Hill, but I never appreciated the architecture until I saw it with older eyes.

Our cross-town all-girls school rival, Holy Names Academy, was also housed in a beautiful old building. (It's now a retirement community.) Spokane artist Jeannine Marx Fruci has painted the building, as seen with this post. She's displaying her new watercolors, including “Holy Names Academy”  this evening at a reception at The Lincoln Center, 1316 North Lincoln Street, from 5 to 9. 

In the book below, the author has an insight into why we are drawn to old buildings as we age.

From Long For This World by Jonathan Weiner: Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire what is old, as Shakespeare observes in one of his death-defying sonnets. We are brief, and therefore we admire a stone tower, a storied tavern, a Greek myth, an antique rippled windowpane, almost anything that seems to have more time than we do.

(Jeannine Marx Fruci watercolor, courtesy of the artist)

Little lies necessary for our aging

In our water aerobics class today, a fellow “pond scummer” as we call ourselves, talked about caring for her aging mother who lives out of town. The aging mother fell in her bathroom recently and the fire department was called. The woman's older children want her to take several precautions so as to not fall again. She was a bit resistant, so the outreach person at the fire department said it was OK to tell the mother that if she fell two more times, and the fire folks were called, they would have to make a report to her doctor who might determine that it was no longer safe to live alone. This is not true, of course.

This got the mother's attention. She will be compliant now with the precautions.

We all said that sometimes with older folks we have to “make up stories” to get their attention. Have you ever done this?



The seven choices that lead to longevity

One of my favorite speakers from last week's Age Boom Academy at Columbia University was Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. She offered great hope that as boomers age, we won't necessarily be a big financial, emotional drain, as most of society fears. It's complicated predicting which aging boomers will be able to work, love and give back into older age.

But those who do aging well will help themselves there, she wrote in an article, by embracing (by age 50) seven healthy lifestyles that “serve as excellent predictors of well-being after age 70. They are not smoking, not abusing alcohol, getting regular exercise, maintaining one's weight, having a stable marriage, an education and good coping mechanisms for dealing with life's troubles.”

Really? Only in the USA

We all have vague plans for our after-life: cremation, burial, don't care - let others figure it out. But when I read this story, I had to wonder about misplaced affection.

My grandmother said she had never seen a hearse driving to the cemetery with a U-Haul behind it, meaning you can't take it with you.

However, you can make a final statement about your values. Bacon, really?

(Photo: J&D's Foods, of Seattle, has introduced the Bacon Coffin. )

Cancer deaths on the decline

Good news today from several national health organizations who put out a joint press release today on the following:

Death rates from all cancers combined for men, women, and children continued to decline in the United States between 2004 and 2008, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2008. The overall rate of new cancer diagnoses, also known as incidence, among men decreased by an average of 0.6 percent per year between 2004 and 2008.  Overall cancer incidence rates among women declined 0.5 percent per year from 1998 through 2006 with rates leveling off from 2006 through 2008… Excess weight and lack of sufficient physical activity are important, avoidable causes of cancer in the United States and other industrialized nations.

For more on the report go here.

Yes, no, good, bad…what to eat, drink?

Coffee, alcohol, dark chocolate…you name the substance and there is a study which indicates that substance’s health-enhancing properties or its contribution to your demise.

In Dr. Alisa Hideg's column today, Dr. Hideg advises readers how to dig into these various studies and their claims.  She tells us to read the fine print, not the drive-by headlines and take time to ask who are the subjects of a study? The effects of caffeine on a Petri dish subject are most likely different than how caffeine impacts a middle-age woman.

Take time to read her good advice – and then dig into the latest study on your favorite food or drink.

(S-R archives photo: Coffee berries grow on a tree in the highlands of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.)

Age Boom Academy: Takeaways

The Age Boom Academy is over. The nearly weeklong immersion in aging issues, held at Columbia University's Journalism School, has filled a notebook's worth of ideas. Some takeaways:

1) Generations younger than the boomers shouldn't worry too much that we are going to suck dry Social Security. Almost all the speakers predicted that boomers, especially those now in their 50s, will continue working into their 70s and 80s. Likely more part- time than full time. But this means boomers will continue paying taxes. And the boomers are not clogging the labor pipeline as much as feared. In fact, the majority of people who start small businesses are 50 and older.

2) Boomers may also not clog the health-care system, as feared. They are more into preventive medicine, being proactive and less likely to run to their doctors for every little thing. And they may be more likely to pull the plug on themselves when the end is near. Not assisted suicide, necessarily, but accepting the fact of death and going into hospice, which saves the system a lot of money because as we all know, some of the most expensive care happens at the end of life.

3) We had a fun discussion at one point on how boomers may start creating, and taking, classes on “how not to be an irritating old person.” The classes would include instructions on how NOT to eat and talk with your mouth full, the importance of bathing daily so you can't be accused of smelling like an old person and finally, getting hearing aids when you need them.

Armed and…ill

Many times when police encounter an armed person, that person is looking for a way to die – and want the cops to kill them. The phenomenon is so common it even has a name: suicide by cop. It happens in about 10-20 per cent of officer-involved shootings.

Police know this phenomenon and work to protect themselves while seeking ways to help the suicidal person. 

This weekend Spokane police were able to do exactly that.

(S-R archives photo: Interim Spokane police Chief Scott Stephens)

Not many 55-year-old gang members

In the Age Boom Academy today we also learned that older people (50 and above) suffer less depression, mental illness and substance abuse compared with younger folks. And they engage in less destructive behavior.

“That's why there aren't a lot of 55-year-old gang members,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging.

Biggest regrets? Family rifts and no risks

Age Boom Academy: Saturday's fascinating lesson.

Karl Pillemer, director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, has interviewed hundreds of older people at the end of their lives and he said one of the biggest regrets at the end is a family rift. The oldsters who had a family rift, especially between a parent and a child, said they would give anything to go back and undo the circumstances that started the rift.

Another regret? Not taking enough risks. Not saying yes to more opportunities or creative ideas, especially those ideas that others said would never work. And finally, most older people wish they had traveled more.

Justice - now!

His smile and innocence captured my heart.  The story will not fade from my mind. The young man who was killed in cold blood in Florida deserves justice.

Will President Obama’s comment – that Trayvon Martin looks like he could be a child of President Obama – be enough to stir empathy and justice?

It is easy to dismiss violence when one is distanced from it. But when the sweet face of a child, who could be your own child, stares at you from the news pages, one must seek answers and justice.

Trayvon may look like Obama, but a child walking freely and innocently down his hometown street is everyone’s child. And Trayvon deserves to have every parent in America stand up for him. Now.

(S-R archives photo)

“I want to die in my own bed”

Takeaways from Day Two of Age Boom Academy at Columbia University:

1) 90 percent of AARP members surveyed said they want to die in their own beds. In other words, age in place. No one knows what this might mean for all the older people (and upcoming boomers) who live in suburbs now. Blocks and blocks of 70 and 80 something folks? What would that do for your neighborhood?

2) No one  can truly predict what it will mean to have so many people 65 and older in our society. We are just at the beginning here. An analogy: At the very beginning of the women's movement in the1960s, no one knew where that movement was to lead. It changed our society forever.

3) If you live to 60, without dying from a heart issue or cancer, you can pretty much count on living another 25 years.

4) Books on caregiving “tank” said Columbia prof and New York Times blogger Paula Span, who wrote one. Why? No one wants to anticipate becoming a caregiver and those who finish it are done and don 't want to read anything about it. Those in the midst of caregiving are too tired and burned out to read about it.

The “weldery?” Pick a better word

In yesterday's Age Boom Academy, the speakers talked about how we talk about the future and its aging citizens might determine the reactions our society has to the coming “silver tsunami.” The narrative of who we are is important. So we need  to come up with better words to describe our aging folks.

The term “welderly” was suggested. Many of aging baby boomers might be in better health than feared as they age. Hence, welderly. 

What names would you suggest to describe aging baby boomers? Your help appreciated.

EndNotes: EndTimes

Noted theologian, Elaine Pagels has a new book out on the book of Revelation – that last book included in the New Testament. You know that book – with apocalyptic images of death, destruction, violence. And The Beast marked with the number 666.

For years that beast has been identified as specific politicians, the pope, technology, any perceived evil threat.  

When I taught scripture classes, the women wanted to dive into the book of Revelation and so we did. But the book, as Pagels explains, is not a future forecast, but a look at John’s (John of Patmos, the author) current events, the mess of 66A.D. and his longing for justice.

 The beast is Nero, whose Greek version of his title (Nero Caesar) transliterates into Hebrew (Nrwn Qsr) and yields a numerical value of 666. “A man is known by his number.” You don’t get the pope or your Uncle Sam.

 While I have not read Pagel’s new book, her reputation for excellent scholarship is recommendation enough. Amen.

 What “beastly” threat prevents you from living your faith as you wish?

What will you do with 30 extra years?

I am at Columbia University in New York City for almost a week at the Age Boom Academy, a look at aging trends and issues. There are journalists, writers and even a documentary filmmaker. It's been fascinating already and just a few hours into it. Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, pointed out that the expected lifespan has increased more than 30 years in just 100 years. Born 100 years ago, the average person could expect 47 years of life. Now it's 80. Her question to all of us: What will you do with the extra 30 years?

Your answer?

Invisible grief

Today's EndNotes column addresses the issue of infertility and the grief it brings to those who long to become parents. So many people want to have children and seek avenues to get to parenthood. Take a moment to learn what you may do to support those you love who live with this sadness.

Also in today's column, learn about obituaries and why they are written with the details - or lack of details - that they are. 

(S-R archives photo)

The cost of a healthy life

What’s the deal? We know that women make most of the health care decisions in a family. (I once told my sister, if I die young she is to make certain my husband gets our son to the dentist every six months…it goes on from there.)

So women must pay more for being vigilant about health?

A story in today's NY Times reveals all the disparity – another gender gap – in health care policy costs between men and women.   One company claimed it might lose male customers if the premiums were increased.

Part of Obama’s health care reform is to end gender rating in health plans. However, this practice has not yet been taken to court.

Check your premium costs, ask your friends. Then, you may need to call your lawyer.

(S-R archives photo)

Wise Words: Don’t do it all alone

In my Wise Words interview Sunday, Lynnette Vehrs, faculty member at Washington State University’s College of Nursing, said: “Sometimes people, nurses included, don’t realize it’s very good to ask for help. Never feel like you have to do it all yourself.”

Kimberly Lusk, an editor at the paper, said it was a great line to end an entire series on, as I pulled the plug (so to speak) on Wise Words in Troubled Times, a three-year series, in which every month I published excerpts from interviews with people I've met over my 27 years at the paper.

I ended it because the economy is reviving (a bit) and because I believe that some newspaper items need to run a natural course and then be done. I pulled the plug on a Catholic-themed blog (Journey to Vatican III) that I wrote for a few years. I gave up an opinion column in 2005. In my 27 years at the newspaper, I have held at least five different positions.

Just as we have to let go of our youth, family members who pass on, and even jobs, my belief is we need to also let go of projects at work when they seem done to make room and energy for other work projects.

I'll miss Wise Words and the people I chatted with each month. But new ideas are brewing. Thanks for reading Wise Words these past three years.

(Lynnette Vehrs photo by S-R/Colin Mulvany)

Military tragedy, our tragedy

The sad news out of Afghanistan makes one ask all kinds of questions: what is the U.S. military really doing in that country?  What is the benchmark for “success” and our departure? What happened to the soldier, a father and husband, that caused him to kill – taking the lives of sleeping children, their mothers, too? Why would anyone have to serve four tours of duty, in war zones, in eight years? And what will happen to this man’s wife and two children, who kept vigil at home, waiting for their personal hero to return? Questions that linger, unanswered.  

War has always confused me – the taking of lives until one side – or more - is exhausted, then some settlement finally reached, out of political maneuvering or political posturing or secret conversations.

As we wait to learn the soldier’s fate, the U.S. military continues its presence, the generals speak, our children die. And Afghan children die, too.

(S-R archives photo: An Afghan man watches his pigeons after feeding them in Kabul, Afghanistan)

Grief work: Go, Dog. Go!

Esta Rosevear, director of the play “Go, Dog. Go!” which opens Saturday in Spokane — details here — was assertive in pitching the play as a main story for our Today section. We don't usually do centerpiece stories on children's theater productions, but “Go, Dog. Go!” happens to be my favorite children's book and it seemed fun to explore the deeper meaning of the 1961 classic.

Esta was delighted. In the course of our interview, she revealed why the play was so special to her. Last year, her 28-year-old daughter died of cancer. And Esta has been slowly losing her eyesight. The longtime drama teacher and director said “Go, Dog. Go!” is likely her last play.

I appreciated two things about Esta. 1) She was articulate about how being involved in the play has helped her find some joy amid great personal sorrows. 2) She didn't use her grief to make a dramatic pitch for us to do the story. Her grief was revealed only in the course of a longer interview after we decided to go ahead with it.

Classy lady. Good luck with the play, Esta.

(S-R/Dan Pelle photo)

Quit smoking initiatives saved nearly 800,000 lives

Good news today from the National Institutes of Health:

Twentieth-century tobacco control programs and policies were responsible for preventing more than 795,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States from 1975 through 2000, according to an analysis funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health.If all cigarette smoking in this country had ceased following the release of the first Surgeon General's report on smoking and health in 1964, a total of 2.5 million people would have been spared from death due to lung cancer in the 36 years following that report, according to the analysis. The results of this study were published online March 14, 2012, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

(Spokesman-Review archives photo)

Grace amid scandal: A widow’s response

The Oregonian's editorial page editor, 63-year-old Bob Caldwell, died of a heart attack Saturday after a sex act with a 23-year-old college student in her apartment. The newspaper wrote a story about the sordid circumstances.  See story.

It took a lot of courage for his widow to write a response on her Facebook page. Here was her response, according to an NPR story on the scandal.

“To all of our friends and family: “I fear today's news about the circumstances of Bob's death may have caused you more sadness. I apologize on his behalf. Bob was a kind, loving and fair man. He would have understood why The Oregonian needed to print the story and he also would have regretted the anguish that it caused to those he loves — both outside and inside of the newspaper. We love him unconditionally. Thanks to all of you for your loving support.”

If it was your spouse, do you think you could write such a gracious response?

End-of-life ethics conference

Hospice of Spokane hosts national teleconferences several times a year. I've been to two of them and they are excellent. Hospice just announced an end-of-life ethics teleconference scheduled for April 25 at the Lincoln Center in Spokane.

Hospice explained the conference this way: “Ethical decisions at the end of life provide a point where all the factors that influence end-of-life care such as finances, laws, values, culture, and technology converge. The decisions that are made at the end of life affect not only the way that the person dies, but also the ways that survivors face the loss.”

Go here if interested in more information and/or registering. Or call (509) 532-6731.


RIP: Encyclopedia Britannica

Encyclopedia Britannica,  published since 1768, announced yesterday that it's  going all digital and will cease publication of its 32-volume printed encyclopedia. Inevitable, I know. But fond memories for me and all other childhood bookies: lying on the floor of my childhood home and paging through the volumes just to be surprised by all the facts. A kingdom of wonder right there.

Hail King Peggy

Have you yet heard of King Peggy? She's getting a lot of press lately because she's written a book. Here's a bit about her from an NPR story:

There's an unlikely new leader in West Africa. Three years ago, Peggielene Bartels, a naturalized U.S. citizen and secretary at Ghana's Embassy in Washington woke to the news that she had been crowned king of Otuam, a Ghanaian fishing village.She accepted the lifetime appointment, and now divides her time between Otuam and Washington, D.C. She describes herself as a “commuter king” and chronicles straddling two cultures — and lives — in a new book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village.

She was interviewed this morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe and talked about how she heard the news she was now king, because the king before her had died. But her villagers never say that a king has died. They say instead:

“The King is going to the village. He is not coming back anytime soon.”

Vasari’s code? DaVinci’s masterpiece?

As a person who once lived a fairy-tale year in Florence, Italy, I love to hear news from that city. It feels like news from home.

So when the Associated Press reported that perhaps the hunt has ended for DaVinci’s unfinished mural titled “Battle of Anghiari,” my heart raced. The beauty I experienced in Florence was a lovely mix of art, passion, culture and youth. An intoxicating mix I shared with 90 other Gonzaga students. We fell in love with Dante, Petrarch, Michelangelo, DaVinci and each other.

DaVinci started the mural in 1505 to commemorate the 15th-century victory by Florence over Milan at the medieval Tuscan town of Anghiari. He left Florence in 1506, leaving the work unfinished.

The Renaissance holds many secrets. Was it the artist Vasari who wrote “cerca, trova” (seek, find) on his own work to suggest that DaVinci’s work rested underneath? The National Geographic Society and the University of California in partnership with the city of Florence may uncover DaVinci’s creative masterpiece in Florence.  

 As for our Gonzaga-in-Florence Renaissance secrets? They belong to the artists alone.

(S-R archives photo: A couple kiss each other during a snowfall in Florence, Italy)

Spin, Stomp and Sexy, too

You don’t have to have the body of a waif or the feet of Fred Astaire to make your moves on the dance floor.  Take a chance, get out and dance!  Timeless Torches, a dancing troupe tied to the New York Liberty of the Women’s National Basketball Association has been holding auditions and most of the men and women who try out are around 60-years-old.

So move over, Rockettes, the competition has arrived!  

(S-R archives photo)

Chubby at 85? Good! Eat up!

For our oldster readers who fought their weight all their life, some good news today.

According to HealthDay News:

(A) study, by Tel Aviv University researchers, revealed that while obesity did increase the risk of dying for people in their 70s and early 80s, when people lived longer than that those who were obese had a slightly lower risk of death than their underweight or normal-weight peers. Obesity may also provide energy reserves in times of stress, illness and trauma. In addition, obesity may prolong the period of pre-death weight loss, as aging is associated with decreased food intake.

(Ernest Borgnine, a hefty actor, is still alive and working — at 95. S-R archives photo)

Change your clocks, please

The clocks in the newsroom read 9 a.m., even though it is 10.

Daylight Savings Time throws most everyone's body clocks off and it doesn't help that clocks in public places, workplaces, etc., don't seem to get changed for weeks and sometimes, not until Daylight Savings switches back to regular time in the fall.

It bugs me. And I am very vocal about it. But yesterday, some humility. I was grumbling in Sunday School that even the church classroom clock was wrong. I looked at my watch — 9 a.m. — and then the wall clock — 10 a.m.

Turned out the wall clock was right. My watch — me — wrong. I blamed my body clock being off, of course.

Only silence

What motivated a US soldier to kill Afghan civilians over the weekend?

The victims were mostly women and children, who slept. 

As a teen I would ask my dad about the Viet Nam war as black and white footage played across the evening news.

“It’s complicated,” he’d say, and give succinct summaries of the day’s events.

 As we listened to the radio report of the Afghan civilians who lost their lives at the hands of an American soldier, my teen-age son asked, “Why would anyone do that?!”

 As I fought back my tears, my only reply… was silence.

(S-R archives photo:An aerial view of Kabul city is seen from atop a hill as a street dog walks in Kabul, Afghanistan)

New beginnings…supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Dick Van Dyke, 86, married his makeup artist, Arlene Silver, 40. I think it is the greatest age difference between husband and wife that I know.  It will be fun to watch these newlyweds.

A few years ago I would have been laughing at this match. However, life teaches us that our time on Earth is short and happiness fleeting. If I were alone at 86 and crazy about someone who loved me, who knows?  Sometimes our sunset years bring great light.

Your thoughts?

(S-R archives photo)

Barbie’s small-neck-artery problem

The Barbie doll turns 53 today. The reason I know this? I am somehow on the press release list of the Society for Vascular Surgery. The woman who sends out the press releases always makes some interesting connections between vascular surgery and popular culture.

So her Barbie release connects the fact that Barbie has always been active with the fact that an active lifestyle translates to good vascular health, an issue as women age because “women's smaller neck arteries result in quicker buildup of plaque which restricts blood flow leadng to strokes and heart attacks.”

Happy Birthday, Barbie. I have three years on you! Loving the 50s for their clarity, unless your neck arteries restrict blood flow to your brain.

(S-R archives photo)

Lost…and found

Margaret Page, 41, was found alive in a New Mexico national forest. Page had been in the woods for nearly a month. She was found in her sleeping bag – with her cat. She survived on a limited amount of food and water from a nearby creek. She had packed cat food for her cat, who appeared in better shape than she did. She lost 25 pounds.

The area where Page was found camping had seen average highs reach around 60 degrees with evening lows in the 20s.

Sometimes we are stronger than we can imagine and survive life’s physical as well as emotional challenges.

(S-R archives photo)

In your 90s: Eat anything you wish

I'm on Facebook with Redhawk Rice-Sauer, pastor and homeless advocate, who wrote this today: “My old man is 95. He doesn't eat much and never really has much of an appetite; but, if you put a Big Mac in front of him it is gone… His response: “what's it gonna do; kill me?”

My mom is 91 and scolds herself for eating more chocolates than she thinks she should. We always say, “You're 91! Maybe that's why you are!”

Do you think in your 90s, you'll feel free to eat whatever you damn please (if you still can, I mean) or will the caloric guilt follow you to the grave?

(S-R archive photo)

Alike in life and death

The  twin sisters who were found dead last month in their California home do have family – and those cousins have been located.

The two women were once starlets – a term from their era – and then left the spotlight for a life of isolation and seclusion. No one knows why.

We may learn more about their deaths from toxicology reports in weeks to come.

The greater question: What was the motivation to totally cut themselves off from everyone, family and stranger alike?

(S-R archives photo)

Celebrate Vickie Countryman’s life Monday

Vickie Countryman was one of those Spokane women everyone knew.

I met her in diversity work in the 1990s and for a brief time, we were part of “Circle of Friends” a short-lived but very fun KHQ noon show. Vickie was never shy on that show. She was a TV natural.

She did an origami workshop with our Spokesman diversity committee once, and she filled us in on etiquette when eating a traditional Japanese meal. “It's OK to slurp soup and make noises of enjoyment,” I remember her telling us.

She died suddenly on Jan. 18, at 49. She did a lot of good living, and good work, in those 49 years. Read her obit here. True to what Vickie might have wanted, her friends and family are waiting for her 50th birthday to really celebrate this amazing life.

A memorial service that promises to be packed is planned for Monday, March March 12, at the Community Building, 35 W. Main Street, Spokane from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If you knew Vickie, as almost everyone did, drop by to say goodbye. And celebrate. In the extended post below, read what Darlene Stevens, one of Vickie's many “fans,” wrote about her.

(Spokesman-Review archive photo of Vickie Countryman taken in 1996)


One more damn thing to worry about: Clostridium difficile

This just in from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Infections from Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a bacteria that causes diarrhea and other health issues, is a patient safety concern in all types of medical facilities, not just hospitals as traditionally thought, according to a new report today from the CDC. While many health care-associated infections, such as bloodstream infections, declined in the past decade, C. difficile infection rates and deaths climbed to historic highs. C. difficile is linked to about 14,000 U.S. deaths every year.

Read more here.

Happy Anniversary EndNotes

This is a self-serving blog post. Let's get that out of the way right now. But this week marks the first anniversary of our EndNotes column. Cathy and I sent in our first two columns to McClatchy-Tribune Information Services the first week of March 2011.

People in the newsroom call this the “death blog” and so some thoughts on some lessons learned after a year of death blogging and columnizing.

  • The people we hear from most after columns run are people in their 50s and above, unless as younger people they have experienced a great loss. No surprises here.
  • Grief experts are pretty unanimous that the person grieving runs the show. We all might have ideas on how best to grieve and what worked for us, but grief is so individual that the best response is to respect where the griever is at the moment.
  • When you are at a loss for words, a sincere “I'm sorry” works best.
  • Don't counter a grief story with one of your own. Just listen.
  • The people we've interviewed and books we've read this year reinforce one regret most people hold at the end of their lives. They wished they'd taken more risks. It doesn't mean skydiving, necessarily. It means stretching the boundaries of personal comfort, personally and professionally. And saying yes to new things that challenge you.
  • So many things can kill you or change your life forever through illness that it's best to pretend none of them will get you in the end. The mental placebo effect.
  • We don't get a lot of questions for our column from readers. We're hoping for more. The best questions have come from newsroom colleagues, family and friends.
  • In the long run, we're all dead.

African Americans die sooner than Caucasians

From MedLine Plus:

White men in the United States live an average of about seven years longer than black men, while white women live more than five years longer than black women, a new study shows.

The reasons? It's complicated and doesn't necessarily mean that white men and women are healthier. Read the article for more.

Death by tongue and arrogance

Diehard Rush Limbaugh supporters are hoping this, too, shall pass. But I'm banking on the end of Rush's influence after he called a Georgetown University student a “slut.”

It had the “death by tongue and arrogance” feel that has spelled the end to the power of other folks throughout history. Sen. Joe McCarthy's Communist-hunting campaign wound down after an Army lawyer called him on his craziness in 1954 with this line that's gone down in history: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Don Imus' radio career never really came back to life after his “nappy headed hos” comment in 2007 about the Rutgers women's basketball team. I was a big Imus fan but you could sense the arrogance creeping into the show for about a year leading up to the incident. His wife was on all the time, touting this and that.

Sarah Palin's decline can be traced to her “crosshairs” map of candidates that included the then candidacy of Congresswoman Giffords, later shot in Arizona. Palin's tongue got her in more trouble as she responded to critics about the crosshairs map, charging them with blood libel — a term offensive to Jewish people.

Drug addiction and deafness didn't bring down Rush. But arrogance, and a tongue that didn't think first, might.

And one more thing: He did not have A-list advertisers. Carbonite, Citrix, Go To Meeting, Legal Zoom, ProFlowers, Quicken Loans, Sleep Number and Sleep Train? Was this an early sign that his demise was on its way, anway?

(S-R archives)

What’s a woman to do?

The FDA has raised questions about the side effects of statin drugs: diabetes and memory loss.Oh, great.

When you come from a family where diabetes is closing in on you from both genetic sides and your cholesterol is high, even when you eat like a rabbit, it’s all a crap shoot. More than 20 million Americans take statin drugs which lowers cholesterol; if the statistics prove true, then 100,000 people would be diagnosed with statin-induced diabetes.

(Healthy) food for thought.

(S-R archives photo)

Gentle on our minds

Glen Campbell will play to a sold-out crowd Saturday night in Airway Heights – at Northern Quest Casino. Campbell has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is on the road doing what he loves best – singing and enjoying his fans.

Campbell’s wife and their three children are with him as he travels this country and entertains crowds. While entertaining he offers an object lesson: how to courageously face a future of physical demise while embracing and enjoying the life one has. Now that’s something to sing about.

(S-R archives photo)

RIP: All Saints’ Jill Gotzian

Jill Gotzian, a beloved teacher at All Saints School in Spokane, died unexpectedly this week. She taught fifth grade, used a wheelchair for many years due to a progressive muscle disorder. She was much beloved by staff, students and alumni. And obviously a gem in her own neighborhood.  She won the newspaper’s Good Neighbor contest in 2002.

In his blog, One Catholic Life, the school’s vice principal, Nick Senger, wrote: 

Every neighborhood has one: the Kool-Aid house. The one place where all the kids hang out, play, and laugh. Schools have them too, Kool-Aid classrooms, where kids congregate before or after school to chat with the teacher; the place to which graduates return. Jill’s classroom was the Kool-Aid house of our school. Day after day, students stopped in to chat, surrounding her desk as she sat in her motorized scooter. Whenever I saw an All Saints graduate return for a visit, I knew exactly where they were heading: last door on the right, 5 North.

But it wasn’t just the classroom. Jill herself was a moving Kool-Aid house, a water cooler on wheels, the place where teachers would gather to laugh, complain, or comment on the latest news. If Jill was in the office, that’s where the teachers would hang out. If Jill motored outside to each lunch in the sunshine, that’s where the teachers ate lunch.

There are people in this world who, by the sheer force of their magnetic personality, draw people continually to them. Jill was such a force, and such a personality.

Where will we gather now that she is gone?

(Spokesman-Review archives photo)

Happening tomorrow: frozen dead guys festival

Tomorrow, in Nederland, Colo., thousands of folks will gather for the Frozen Dead Guys Festival. It's in honor of people who freeze their bodies when they die, but really it's an excuse for a music/artsy festival in the cold of winter.

I heard about the festival from Gail Rubin, author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don't Plan to Die. She takes a humurous spin on death and gets away with it, because she gets a serious message across — the need to preplan.

Last year at the festival, she debuted her The Newly-Dead Game based on the Newlywed Game TV show. Couples try to guess each other's last wishes, such as “what song does he/she want at the funeral?”

This EndNotes blog leads to some interesting places, for sure.

Name this voice…

“I want to make that clear. This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”  

She has decided to speak out against one of her teen-age demons: bullying. She recalls being put in a garbage can, taunted.  People yelling obscene names at her in front of others threatened her abilities to maintain her straight-A grades.

 Today, she believes that bullying is an obstacle to education; Harvard University thinks so, too, where she unveiled her Born This Way Foundation, intended to empower kids and nurture a kinder environment.

You see her shoes, can you guess who this voice belongs too? Here she is

 (S-R archives photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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