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Archive for August 2013

Newtown marches on

Months after the horrific school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the community will march on – stronger than ever.

The annual parade marking the end of summer will take place – continuing a decades-old tradition.

Follow the year-long journey of healing in a community that chooses love.

(S-R archives photo)

Syria ~ now what?

We are war weary in our country: Iraq, Afghanistan, even the memories of Viet Nam for some of us are enough to cause us to exhale grief as we recall images of caskets draped with our own stars and stripes. And now those images of innocent civilians in Syria writhing in pain from chemicals invading their bodies and killing them, their children, their families.

The evil in the world is ever-present. Where is one safe? What next? 

(S-R archives photo: Syrian refugee children peer from the window of their classroom, newly decorated with a mural, at Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border, in Mafraq, Jordan)

Telling the true story 50 years later

Kudos to Karen Erickson of Spokane who was a reporter for the Spokane Chronicle in 1963 when Gail Caldwell of Marycliff High School was named the city's first black Lilac Princess. See my story about the historic event.

Erickson filled in a bit of disturbing history in her recent letter to the editor about the 1963 parade. She wrote:

As a cub reporter for The Spokane Chronicle covering the parade, I was beside the reserved platform as the Royal Court approached in bunting-decked convertibles. A young man in a Junior Chamber of Commerce lavender blazer was helping the hoop-skirted princesses mount the platform. To my shock and embarrassment, he glimpsed the black princess and retreated, unwilling to assist her. Another gentleman quickly came forward to graciously provide an escort.This reporter scuttled back to the newsroom to advise her city editor, “Have I got a parade sidebar for you!”

Horror and disgust flashed across Gordon Coe’s face. He literally banged his forehead on his desk. “I wish to hell you hadn’t told me that … because you aren’t going to read about it in the Chronicle,” he responded. And no one did, until now. We now recognize Gail Caldwell Bonner’s courage in handling that “first black Lilac princess” role with grace and dignity.I’ve waited a half-century to report this story. But I do so now realizing we’ve come a long way in Spokane toward respecting full equality.

Thanks for taking the time to write this, Karen. One of the great gifts living into older age is that one day, you can finally tell some truths, some untold stories and set straight the family/workplace/community record.

(S-R archive photo of the 1963 Lilac Parade. Gail Caldwell is in the front right.)

Older drivers are killed more on the job

I don't know how this report will affect the hiring of 65-plus cab drivers, delivery drivers or truck drivers, but it should give us all pause. I guess if you're looking for an encore career after 65, you might try a line of work that doesn't include a lot of driving.

Excerpt from the HealthDayNews story:

Older workers who drive as part of their job have significantly higher traffic death rates than younger workers, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.Workers aged 65 and older have about three traffic-related deaths per 100,000 people, which is triple the rate of workers aged 18 to 54, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(S-R archive photo)

Exiting the stage

Actress Julie Harris died at age 87. Harris died at home in Massachusetts of congestive heart failure. Her talents earned her six Tony Awards as best actress throughout her 60-year career. 

(S-R archives photo: A line of ticket-buyers wait at the TKTS booth, which sells discount tickets to Broadway shows, in New York's Times Square)

Another reason to be glad your 20s are over

The 20s are a tough decade for most. You usually look good, but all that drama!  Here's another reason to be glad the 20s have passed you by. In your 50s and 60s, you likely won't be in nightclubs featuring foam parties.

Here's an excerpt from a recent report about eye injuries at a foam party from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

On May 26, 2012, the Collier County Health Department was notified by law enforcement and hospital personnel that approximately 40 persons had sought care at local emergency departments because of severe eye irritation and pain. Patients reported that they had attended a foam party at a local nightclub the night before. At foam parties, soapy foam is sprayed onto the dance floor while participants dance. The foam is distributed from blowers on the ground or attached to the ceiling, and several feet of foam can accumulate. Foam parties can last for several hours while foam is dispersed intermittently throughout the night.

Who’s calling, please?

Seems Pope Francis I likes to communicate via the telephone. Really! The pope has picked up the phone – without staff assistance – and called people to offer comfort, thanks or perhaps simply to chat.

If your caller ID comes up with Vatican City attached to an unknown number, you just may want to answer the call. Francis did.

(S-R archives photo: Pope Francis I)

College, AmeriCorps, the Army: The long letting go

I remember the day my son started Kindergarten. I wore Yoko Ono-type sunglasses, not to shield the sun, but to shield my son from his mommy’s tears. Such an act of trust to hand-off your precious child to someone who may teach them, but never love them like a mommy loves. And so the separations between us went on: school, field trips, overnights to friends’ homes, church adventures, a red-eye flight to the East to attend three weeks of theatre camp, a week of volunteering at a migrant camp. Little short good-byes followed with lively reunions of hugs, and always animated stories of what transpired. 

Now soon…my son may pack up his life and be gone. He asked: “Will you be heartbroken when we don’t spend Christmas together?” I answered in theory: “Well, when one’s child is happy, that is what makes parents happy. So, when you are living far away and you are happy – I will be happy.” He simply smirked.

Launching children on their next adventures, demands we take time to assess what these steps mean. And while I believe it was simply a few years ago, I was headed across the country to embark on my young adult adventures, I feel old. And blessed. Parenthood provides a chance to become our best selves when we listen to our best teachers: our children.

As another transition looms, I can’t find those Yoko Ono sunglasses or words to explain my profound love for my son. As Michael Gerson writes in his column about dropping off his eldest child at college: “…The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone’s else’s story.”  May our children’s stories continue as wonderful, safe and joyful adventures.

(S-R archives photo)

Car toys and their evolution

They were so cool when they first arrived! A CD player in your car. My 2004 Murano (God rest its totaled soul) had a six-CD player in it and I loved it. And while I do own an iPod, I long for a six-CD player in the new car - it has room for one CD at a time. And a jack for an iPod with infinite choices.

Something about the tactile nature of each CD and my ability to precisely select what I want to hear appeals to me from my Murano days. But soon, all cars may be manufactured without any CD player (see story).

Sometimes infinite choice actually takes away direct control. 

(S-R archives photo: Pieter Kramer poses for photographers in Eindhoven, Netherlands in 2007. Kramer was a leading engineer on the team that developed the CD.)

Thank you to the “prophetic” Marycliffers

My Sunday story was about Gail Caldwell Bonner, Spokane's first black Lilac Princess, elected in 1963 from Marycliff High School in Spokane.

I interviewed Gail and three of the friends who rallied around her to get her nominated 50 years ago in a history making move.

As I transcribed the interviews, I found myself with tears in my eyes. Unusual. Several people emailed me today to tell me the story brought tears to their eyes, too.

I think they are tears of gratitude, for these women who, 50 years ago, knew our country's future was going to be a lot more color blind and judge people more readily on things other than their race.

They were prophets, Maryclff style. So glad I got to tell their story.

Spokesman-Review archives photo


Try it! You may like it.

Our iPods and iPhones and all e-devices connect us to music, other people, the latest breaking news and FaceBook updates. But they seem to disconnect us from ourselves.  

How would it feel to put it all away? Read one person’s story of discoveries through disconnection.     

(S-R archives photo: Apple Computers Inc. CEO Steve Jobs introduces the iPod Nano)                   

More coffee? maybe …umm… not

Yet another study tells us of coffee's health risks or is it its benefits?  Seems each day the media reports on a health study to assist us in our daily eating and drinking habits – often with conflicting information.

Perhaps we are back to that ancient Greek axiom: “Everything in moderation.” Read and wonder - and maybe drink up.

(S-R archives photo)

Return of the cranes

In September 2006, more than a year before the housing boom busted and the Great Recession descended upon the land, the Inland Northwest was dotted with construction cranes, the outward sign of the good times.

The new tower at The Spokane International Airport was being built, using a crane as big as my imagination. For a Labor Day 2006 column, I climbed it and wrote about the man who operated it.

At the end of the column, I wrote: “I will never see a construction crane with the same eyes again.”

And then, within two years, the cranes disappeared from the landscape. No one was really building. I missed them, because of what they stood for.

This week, I have spotted cranes again. There's one in the Kendall Yards development and at the Spokane VA Medical Center.

It's the sign of something, a community building again, new housing, an improved VA Center, a hope for the future that the cranes will dot the landscape again.

(S-R archive photo from 2006 of Spokane's airport tower under construction).

Got siblings?

Sibs may influence your marriage?!

A new report reveals that the more siblings one has (up to seven) the more likely your marriage will last.

All that negotiating for the bathroom and compromising and getting along with different personalities may actually be good preparation for a lifetime of marital bliss.

(S-R archives photo)

Extroverts may age better

If socialization is essential to healthy aging, it makes sense that extroverts — who tend to thrive in crowds and at parties - would do better in their older years.

A study in the Journal of Research in Personality, as reported at HealthDayNews, “found that for nearly 4,600 British adults followed for decades, those who were 'extroverts' in their youth gave higher ratings to their well-being and satisfaction with life once they'd reached their early 60s.”

The researchers were quick to point out that shy people can age well, too. The folks in the study reporting high satisfaction in their 60s were also emotionally stable and “less neurotic” than others in their younger years.

So if you were a neurotic extrovert in your 20s does it cancel out the positive effect in your 60s? Guess I'll have to wait and see.

(S-R archive photo of Muhammad Ali, declared one of history's best known extroverts by Time magazine)

Godspeed Dr. VanderWilde

A good doctor of the kind depcited in Norman Rockwell paintings died last week. Alex VanderWilde, our family physician, passed on. Read his obituary. He was born in 1926 and lived through a unique experience during World War II. I wrote about him in 2003.

Dr. VanderWilde grew up in Bandoeng on the Island of Java in the former Dutch East Indies, a Dutch colony at the time. It's now Indonesia. His father, a coffee, tea and rubber trader, was from Holland. His mother was a native of the island. Dr. VanderWilde was the youngest of five children. He was 16 when the Dutch East Indies “capitulated'' to the Japanese on March 9, 1942.

All the schools were closed. “I thought this was a fantastic idea,'' he said. “Then, the reality set in.''

A few months later, the Japanese went door to door and led residents away at riflepoint. Eventually, Dr. VanderWilde landed at an all-male civilian work camp. When I asked him where he slept, he joked: “It wasn't the Best Western. It was the Worst Western!'' Then, he showed me a drawing of the wood pallets the boys and men slept on. No mattresses, no blankets, no sheets. He didn't change clothes for a year. He and the others received one meal a day - spare soup and some bread.They worked like dogs, and many died. Dr. VanderWilde hoped to be a physician before the war. The work camp experience sealed his choice.

Dr. VanderWilde was always ahead of his times. He believed in natural childbirth in the days women were gassed to oblivion during childbirth. He was an early skeptic of the value of cholesterol drugs and some of his fears about the drugs seem to be coming true. He always knew, and gently conveyed, that many ailments had underlying emotional components. He was a gem. In retirement, he and his wife grew Christmas trees.

The chocolate fountain of youth

My mother, 92, has been pretty disciplined all her life about eating and exercising, one reason she likely outlived all her siblings, a husband and an older-age boyfriend.

But she always had one secret passion — chocolate. She eats several pieces of chocolate most days after dinner. Even her doctor a year or so ago told her to eat that chocolate with joy. She does. On some days, she has a better memory than most of us kids!

Today, a Los Angeles Times story in our newspaper should erase any guilt she has about her daily indulgence. It said that “in a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, researchers reported that chocolate may help improve brain health and thinking skills in the elderly.”

So eat and enjoy that chocolate, Mom. It's good role-modeling.

(Spokesman-Review archive photo)

Really? basta!

Didn’t the tourist’s mom teach him: “Look, don’t touch!” The lovely piece – the Virgin Mary by Giovanni d’Ambrogio at Florence, Italy’s  Museo dell'Opera del Duomo- now has one less finger because the American tourist was compelled to mess with a piece of ancient art. (See story)

Italians cherish their romantic city with all its Renaissance treasures; and when they speak about the paintings, writings, architecture and sculptures, you wonder if they knew Michelangelo, Dante and Petrarch personally. Italians live as though they did.

While the Uffizi in Florence displays Botticelli’s magnificent works and rooms and rooms of other treasures, it is the Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo where some equally inspiring pieces live: Donatello’s Mary Magdalene, a craggy wooden sculpture my son termed “Mary Hagdalene” when he saw – and loved - it. He was ten years old when we traveled to Florence. And I am certain that Mary “Hagdalene” still has all her fingers. I taught my son while in the presence of these magnificent works we are profoundly privileged and above all else: “Look, don’t touch!”  

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

A photo is worth 1,000 Facebook shares

My Sunday story, on Spokane firefighter Mike Rose, is sweeping its way on Facebook. Wish I could claim my writing. But I think Spokesman-Review photo journalist and videographer Colin Mulvany's spectacular photo is the reason. He took this at the funeral of firefighter John Knighten July 8 but we didn't run it until Sunday because we wanted to respect Knighten's memorial service and keep the focus on him on July 9. So Colin and I worked together to discover the story behind the man who collapsed, Mike Rose, who is amazing. He's determined to return to work at the profession he loves. Dedication.

A poem

Sometimes one needs a poem. My friend loves poetry. Today, I will escort her to her first round of chemotherapy - for her returning cancer. We cried in church a few weeks ago as she told me her health status. We shared breast cancer journeys years ago…and now this monster returns inside her body.

I believe compassion is simply the act of walking into the middle of another person's suffering and staying present. And I believe that walk demands courage. I pray for my courage to accompany us as she takes these next steps. I pray,too, for kindness.


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

—Naomi Shihab Nye

(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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