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Archive for December 2013

Celebrating the years

How could a couple, 61-years married, celebrate their anniversary? They agree to a photo shoot with props inspired by the movie “Up,” a gift from their family.

Donald and Dorothy Lutz have only one photograph from their wedding, but a scrapbook filled with great photos of their recent time on Boston’s Old Northern Avenue Bridge.

Sometimes the best gifts are ones that not only make memories, they capture the lines in our faces, the journeys we have taken on our adventures; and for Donald and Dorothy, the upward adventures through their 61 years of marriage.

(S-R archive photo)

To retire…or not?

As the year ends, many people are assessing their lives and planning for 2014. And for Boomers, retirement may be one possible option.

Look at the history of retirement, trends and most of all, make plans before you write that farewell memo. (See Boomer U story)

(S-R archive photo)

Yesterday on ‘Today’ tomorrow

Remember waking up to Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel? The team will join Matt Lauer on Today for a reunion on Monday’s show. Jane Pauley continues to grace the screen of Today each month with a segment on older Americans and their encore careers.

Worth waking up for a glimpse of nostalgia ~ Today.

(S-R archive photo: Sunrise, Boise, Idaho)

When to say when

Many times we have cleaned our glasses or contact lenses and our view of the world has not improved. Hazy skies? No, cataracts. And they are the leading cause of blindness, but also a normal process of aging. The surgery is the most common one performed with over 3 million done each year. Since the cataract growth is gradual, patients often decide when they are ready to have the simple procedure to clear their vision. Unchecked eyes that develop cataracts may eventually cause blindness.

Know when to say when as the clouds appear.

(S-R archive photo)

How many gifts to give?

My cousin decided last year that this year her children would receive only three Christmas gifts citing that Jesus had three gifts – one from each wise man. She worried that they would feel short-changed. They did not. Instead, they were delighted and attentive.

Do you have a specific number of gifts that you give to your children or do you try to give them the world? Why?


Christmas gift of love

Before she died, Brenda Schmitz wrote a letter asking that her three wishes be fulfilled – when the time was right. The time would be right when her husband found a new love.

Two years later, the letter was sent – anonymously – to a local radio station explaining her wishes: asking that her husband’s new love receive some time of pampering. After all, the new wife would soon be mother to Brenda’s four boys. Some time for the new family to get to know each other better and enjoy each other’s company. Wish number three would be an evening of dinner and drinks for the staff who cared for Brenda so lovingly as she fought her cancer.

Des Moines, Iowa, station KSTZ is granting Brenda’s wishes, her last wishes of generous compassion toward her caregivers, her husband, their children and a gesture of welcome to a woman Brenda will never know.

After all the consumer frenzy of the season, we need not look far for the profound meaning of Christmas:  the burning power of love will always light our way through darkness – often from the most unlikely person, a babe in the manger, or even a woman whose light shines brightly still, like a star in the East guiding those on their journey toward a new place.

Merry Christmas.

(Photo: Tony Wadden)

Winter’s nap?

Remember the thrill of being able – allowed - to stay up as late as you want?

My, how age changes our desires.

Sleep and its ability to restore and delight us seem more appealing as we age.

Sweet dreams.

(S-R archive photo)

Pope Francis ~ this week

He is Time magazine’s “Person of the Year;” he is tweeted about and talked about and loved. He celebrated his birthday last week and invited in homeless neighbors. Later in the week when a woman’s baby was crying, he suggested the child needed to be fed. The mother thought it inappropriate, but Pope Francis told her when someone is hungry and we have the food to feed them, we should. She did.

The Catholic Church has wonderful social justice doctrines that demand Catholics reach out, welcome in, feed the hungry, visit the sick, clothe the naked. Not just when it is convenient, not just in giving our extras, but daily from our hearts, from our wealth. Now we have a leader who lives out our mandates with such grace and compassion, the world has noticed. 

(S-R archive photo: Pope Francis visits the Santa Marta dispensary at the Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. For more than 90 years, the dispensary on the Vatican grounds has been distributing milk, clothing, diapers, toys and even baby carriages to families in need.)

It is a wonderful life

December 22: Soon the days will offer daylight noticeably longer. The shadows of 4:30 will disappear and sunshine will linger.

Some believe that depression is greatest this time of year. Take George Bailey who tries to kill himself in “It’s a Wonderful Life”  by jumping off a bridge into the December darkness. Clarence – an angel, of course – saves him. Poor George was motivated to end his life by money – or the missing of it.

The belief of increased suicide attempts at the holidays is actually statistically unsupported. It’s spring that grabs that credit. Perhaps it is the debt to the IRS come April 15 that renders hopelessness or longing for something just beyond one’s reach.

No matter the disappointment at any time of year – it is always best to reach for an angel –a friend, a trusted loved one, a skilled professional - who can bridge a lighted way to hope. After all, it is a wonderful life.

(S-R archive photo: James Stewart, as George Bailey, center, is reunited with his wife, played by Donna Reed, left, and children during the last scene of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”)

Home, at last

Clara Gantt waited 63 years for her beloved’s return. His body arrived at LAX on Friday and 95-year-old Clara was there to accept his remains.

Clara’s husband, Sgt. First Class Joseph Gannt, had been presumed dead after being captured as a prisoner of war in Korea. He died as a prisoner in 1951. His remains, identified at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and forensics labs in Honolulu, arrived home on Friday to California.

Clara never remarried. She wanted only Joseph as her husband – no one else. As tears streamed down her cheeks, she gently touched the flag-draped casket. 

Time cannot limit or erase grief that longs for resolution.

“I'm so happy - it's a closure. He's coming home,” said Clara.

(S-R archive photo)

Small Miracles

In Balsas, Ecuador, an isolated community, many of its citizens have Laron syndrome, a genetic mutation that causes dwarfism – and may hold a key to preventing cancer as well as diabetes.  If scientists can develop the pharmacological substance that would mimic Laron syndrome, it could be given to healthy adults to prevent the person’s growth hormone from binding to growth hormone receptors.

Two women I know have metastatic cancer; two women who live life with passion, generosity, kindness and grace, their futures uncertain. Imagine the miracles that may come with a cure for this ravaging disease. Imagine the answer lies in a remote place with modest and generous people.

Says one mother of her daughter: “If my daughter can help save other people, then we’ll do it … with pleasure.”

Quack, quack, quack

Lots of talk about Duck Dynasty’s character who recently said gay relationships are “sinful.”  His detailed comments now have him suspended from the show.

When does “free speech” cross the line? And why, oh why, do some who describe themselves as Christians make such hateful comments?

Poor Jesus. All these “believers” quacking about each other. Maybe we should listen to his words: “Love one another as I have loved you…love your neighbor as yourself,” instead of the bearded men of Louisiana’s lowlands.

(S-R archive photo)

Traffic Hell

After spending 7 hours on the freeway, travelling 60 miles, I walked through our front door claiming I felt like Goldie Hawn’s character in “Overboard.” Hawn spends hours with a chain saw in hand and later sits in a semi-catatonic state muttering, “ba-ba-ba-ba-.” And I wasn’t even driving.

The fatal accident left a semi-truck driver dead and another person hospitalized. Fiery vehicles and strewn debris closed all but one lane for over 10 hours.  As my friend and I inched down the road, we talked and talked about work, holidays, friends, other drivers.  We called our friends who left a few minutes before us, asking for their location.  

An hour later we checked in again. “I have calculated that we have traveled 40 yards per minute in the last hour,” said Mark. So had we.

My favorite observation was one driver next to us. She was crocheting. I think by the time she hit Olympia she must have crocheted a complete sweater. Seven hours’ worth of crocheting could yield quite a garment.

My driving friend remained calm – “what else can we do?” -  and soon we were singing with the Christmas carols on the radio. Reminiscing about friends, now gone.

The experience seems on object lesson for the season:  keep all in perspective, give in when nothing can be changed, enjoy the moments, chat with friends and be grateful for what is. We were grateful – eventually we arrived home, But for one family, the traffic nightmare will remain. One family lost a loved one.  A driver who was simply doing his job, driving a truck, did not arrive home last night and will not be home for Christmas.

Canine bliss

Our pets give us unconditional love and attention. As the prayer says, “Please God, help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” Well, something like that.              

Somehow the attention of one's dog (or, I admit for some, one’s cat) can ease stress, calm nerves, and offer the feeling of being loved – no matter how difficult the day or situation. Beau and Theo have just such a relationship. 

(S-R archive photo)

Peter O’Toole

…has died.  O’Toole, a British actor of stage and screen, was a wildly handsome and just plain wild man who earned eight Academy Award nominations, but never won the award. He won hearts instead. He is best known for his role in “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Of his career, he said it had brought him “together with fine people, good companions with whom I've shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits.” Just like the rest of humanity – enjoying success and disappointments.

He lived with passion, saying, “If you can't do something willingly and joyfully, then don't do it”.

Perfect advice for anyone.

(S-R archive photo: Peter O'Toole 2007)

Holy-day traditions

As the ads for “stuff” continue to inundate us with shopping messages, it is easy to be consumed with consumerism. However, we can find our own ways to celebrate the holy holidays.

Yesterday we celebrated “Friends-giving.” We gathered with our friends of 30 years (and endless life events) to share food and memories and laughter and our “what’s next?” hopes for the future. We call ourselves “chosen family.” We have buried loved ones, survived disease, celebrated children’s rites of passage and loved each other through it all.  We like our Friends-giving celebrations.

Traditions link us to our past – people and places and our very selves. What are your traditions that define the holiday season? 

(S-R photo)

Newtown ~ one year later

We remember the news of one year ago: 20 children, six staff members in an idyllic elementary school, killed. Our lives have gone on, but those families and their community continue to struggle with the loss of innocence and the loss of precious loved ones.

They have asked for privacy today. Amazingly, the media has granted their request. But the Sandy Hook community has taken steps to honor their loved ones and allow us to support them in their journey. Their website tells the stories of some of their precious loved ones; click on some names, and you may read about the person’s life or the message may say, “Thank you for respecting our privacy.”  The site offers links to projects readers can support through financial donations.

Acts of kindness, prayers, advocacy for sensible gun laws as well as improved mental health services offer avenues of support and remembrance today. And knowing we all remain vulnerable to leaving each other too soon reminds us to tell our loved ones how much we love them – because you just never know.

(S-R archive photo)

For Tom Royce, SJ

When I heard the news that Tom Royce, SJ, had left his Earthly journey, now welcomed into heaven, I grabbed my GU-in-Florence sweatshirt and put it on. The logo rests over my heart. Seems perfect.

Tom Royce, SJ, taught philosophy at GU my freshman year. “Now, remember, you cannot go from a particular to a universal, but you can go from a universal to a particular. Here’s an example…” The man could get so excited about logic. His students could not help but feel inspired by his academic enthusiasm.

But the real fun came in 1975-1976 when Tom Royce shared the year with our GU-in-Florence class. He soon became known as Padre Pastry – not sure if he coined the moniker or we did.  We shared pastry and travel and Italian adventures and woes (ours). Sometimes we went to class. With 92 college students dumped into Europe for a school year, he had lots of entertainment! I later wondered if he laughed or winced each night as he reviewed our daily antics.

On opening tour, we walked the red-light district of Amsterdam with our mouths and eyes wide open. Tom must have enjoyed watching our innocent reactions as we saw prostitutes “advertising” themselves in windows, as naturally as Santa in Macy’s Christmas window. But it was through the routine days of the school year that we met the kind man, Tom Royce. He listened to our drama, our dreams and our challenges. He loved spending time with us, but never tried to be one of us. We shared gelato at Vivoli’s and rode trains to Cervina. He celebrated Mass in the Soviet Union in quiet secret. He taught Documents of Vatican II with lessons I recall: No matter the doctrine, a well-informed conscience wins out – and pastoral compassion.  He lived his message. Tom witnessed some wild behavior among our crowd, but I never heard him express shock or judgment. He simply stood by, available to listen, empathize, laugh, guide or comfort. We didn’t know how wonderful he was – so self-absorbed we were that year.

In later years, I heard stories of his compassion as a parish priest: traveling over the Cascade Mountains to Seattle Children’s Hospital where a critically ill child struggled to live. He rode the buses around Portland to his destinations – his eyesight limited long ago. He was unstoppable in his ministry to be the presence of Christ in a hurting world. He lived the joy he preached and therefore, was deeply loved.

May God welcome Tom into the loving light of joy and celebration – a feast of eternal friendship.  Our hearts carry memories of a selfless man who shared his gentle humor, deep faith, kindness and passion for life. We send him forth with grateful hearts: arrivederci per ora; grazie di tutto

(S-R archive photo)

Where there’s smoke

We have heard of the dangerous effects of drugs – including tobacco – on an unborn child. According to research funded by the National Institutes of Health, use of those substances during pregnancy can double or triple the chances of that child being “stillborn.”  Health officials define stillbirth as a fetus who dies at or later than 20 weeks in the womb.

Alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription pain killers, tobacco and now - sort of legalized - marijuana (still federally illegal) possess threats to our lives as adults. Seems only logical the threat to an unborn child would be even greater.

(S-R archive photo)

Poetry, please

A colleague - L. Patrick Carroll - is home recovering from a hip replacement; he is a wonderful writer and shares the following poem. Enjoy his lovely words.

The Christmas Feast

 I keep getting “fixed”;

Stuff wears out or breaks.

Hopes, dreams, ideals…

Recently a second hip replaced,

Earlier in life a nose, a jaw,

My whole left side paralyzed.

Heart broken,

Figuratively and literally,

Lives and loves too often lost;

And not just me:

Yeats insisted:

“Things fall apart…”

Bernstein’s Mass memorialized:
“How easily things get broken.”

Our world, nation, selves,

(Like mine)

Need mending,

Need Christmas.

Valleys must be smoothed,

Mountains lowered,

Swords to plowshares molded,

Darkness turned to light.

The Word becoming flesh

Translates as

Companion God, by choice,

Sharing our tears, our tent,

Our brokenness,

To fix it, mold it,

Mend it, make it whole,

Not magically “in one fell swoop,”

But offering a healing,

All-repairing path —

 Unselfish love —

 That we can trod, however haltingly,

As Jesus did,

Arriving at our feast

With all its “fixings.”

(S-R archive photo courtesy of NASA)


Curing cancer

Doctors are reporting stunning success in the ongoing fight against cancer. Gene therapy holds tremendous promise in fighting blood cancers such as leukemia. By changing a patient’s own cells into cells that attack the cancer, patients show no signs of cancer.

Emily Whitehead, 8, of Philipsburg, Penn., is a healthy little girl today. Two years ago, doctors believed her organs would fail within days. She was the first child given gene therapy.

Everyone has been touched by this horrible disease – cancer. Perhaps the cure all along was literally within our reach.

Night life

He was charming and fun and kind and smart. Oh, and I found him attractive – tall and confident, a bit reserved. A thinker. The party was filled with many interesting guests. But he and I continued to talk and talk only with each other; I felt a wonderful connection. He kissed me casually on top of my head. I smiled. I spent some time moving among other guests. At the end of the evening he walked over to me and whispered shyly, “You are wonderful, I must see you again. Will you go out with me?” I said, “I would love to go out with you.”

Then, I woke up.

I was 30 years old and single in the dream and so was he. I do not know him in my real life.  

What do our dreams mean and where do their characters come from?

(Photo: Tony Wadden)

Got a Second Wind?

She always wanted to wear a wedding dress.  But Ruth Crawford, 70, was married after WWII in a time when money was tight and men were going off to or returning from war. She married the love of her life on a Friday night in a hotel.

Her husband is gone now, but she still longed to fulfill her lifetime desire to simply wear a traditional wedding dress. Second Wind Dreams fulfilled her wish.

Ruth tried on a few dresses and settled on one, ringing the store’s bell when she found her special dress. Her family secretly waited in the next room and cheered as store clerks escorted her out into the store. While her husband could not admire her beautiful dress, her son took his mom’s arm and spun her around.

Second Wind Dreams seeks to abolish stereotypes and offer seniors a chance to fulfill dreams. Check it out. A wedding dress, pulling back on an airplane’s yoke, directing a symphony, what is your second wind dream and would you be brave enough to fulfill it?  

(S-R archive photo: Elizabeth Taylor's first wedding dress)

Papal visits

We have seen the guards and the pomp and ceremony that accompany popes as they travel. But Pope Francis I apparently manages to sidestep that protocol and slip out of his residence and into the community. He moves among the poor, those who move through the streets in the dark of night.

“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said.

Francis listened and continues to teach the Church what it means to love through simple, tangible actions.

(S-R archive photo: Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican )

Nelson Mandela ~ Prophet, Politician, Peacemaker

Nelson Mandela has died. His rich and dramatic life, from prisoner to president, seems as though it could have been lived by many people, seems impossible that one man lived, survived and transformed a nation as well as transformed hearts. One remarkable man did; an object lesson for each of us.

He spent 10,052 days in an 8 x 8 prison cell. He emerged with a forgiving heart, saying that if one hates his captors after prison, they still have him imprisoned.

The world remembers his legacy. May we live his life's lessons into our future as our best memorial to him.

(S-R archive photo: In this May 10, 1994 file photo, Nelson Mandela takes the oath of office in Pretoria, South Africa, to become the country's first black president. )

Thou shalt tell the truth

The St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archdiocese released the names, work history and current status (dead, living, retired, residence) of priests credibly accused of sexual crimes against trusting believers: children.

As a child, I attended one of the parishes listed: St. Richard Parish. However, I was not there when the criminal priests were. A few priests listed came from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, where I attended its School of Theology - graduate school - in the early 1980s. I do not recall the men named.

The adults I know who have suffered from this type of violent crime committed against them have worked hard to heal. I cannot fathom their journey. And I remain in awe of the survivors who stood up, spoke out, told their stories, hired lawyers, showed up in court to relive their horror and followed the difficult path toward recovery. May their courage protect others. And when a child tells their truth, responsible adults must listen, and take immediate action to protect the child and prosecute the criminal. Always. Every time.

Start the presses

Newsweek will return to print after it printed its last copy in December 2012. For many, that news is comforting. While the convenience of e-readers appeals to many, the feel and tactile pleasure of words in print cannot be replaced.  The resurrected format will publish originally reported stories. Newsweek will be available by subscription only.


I have returned after a holiday visit to my hometown: Minneapolis.  Yes, it is cold there. No matter, going home always brings warmth. With every visit I notice the changes –the community has grown up and is not as it was in my childhood memories. But I still expect to run into people as they were in 1973. Didn’t happen.

I did notice that many stores – grocery and many at the mall – employee older workers. As in retired folks. Left me wondering: are these employees long-time employees or is it an established practice in the Midwest to look beyond the “gray ceiling” and employee those with longtime work experience? 

(S-R archive photo: A plane takes off from Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport in Minneapolis.)

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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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