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Archive for July 2013

56 Up…in this life together

Sometimes we meet people and wonder years later, “I wonder what happened to them?”

The “Up” series gives us a glimpse into that wondering. Michael Apted, a British filmmaker, started the series in 1964 with “Seven Up” interviewing 14 children – at age 7 – and telling their stories. Telling evolved into following this group every seven years and this fall we can see what became of those children – now 56 years old.

Often we define ourselves through our differences. Apted has learned that we are much more alike in our human experiences of love, loss, relationship and human longing than perhaps we understand. Watch for the “56 Up” installment this fall on PBS. (See story)

(S-R archives photo)

The second time around

My Boomer U story today was about newlyweds Theresa and Joe Phillips who married July 20. She was 68. He was 81. Neither expected to marry again.

But they fell madly in love a few years ago and tied the knot.

No one knows how boomers will couple and uncouple in the next two decades or so. See possible ways. But experts agree the dating landscape for aging boomers will be much different than the dating landscape for our parents' generation, when women outlived the men by huge margins, so there weren't a lot of available men once you hit your 60s and beyond.

The dating and remarriage market for aging boomers is “thicker” in the wonderful word used by Stephanie Coontz, one of my favorite women-and-family-issues researchers.

(S-R photo courtesy of Theresa Phillips)

Kindness…a Jesus trait

Following Pope Francis – his travels and theology – causes me to smile and relax. No silly statements, just embracing people and their humanity. His comments infused with compassion and kindness offer hope for the Catholic Church.  See story

I think that Jesus may have evoked similar reactions of warmth and acceptance of self and others. Could it be any simpler: “Love one another as I have loved you.”?  

(S-R photo: Pope Francis delivers his homily during a Mass at Rio de Janeiro's Cathedral in Brazil, Saturday, July 27, 2013.)

Eternal love

Every so often, I read stories like the one about Helen and Les Brown: they died a day apart. Born on the same day, married 75 years, friends and lovers for life; now they enjoy eternal life – together.

Can one die of a broken heart? Or wait until one’s love dies and then simply give in to what illness or weakness one fought? Doctors can’t always explain these events of the heart. See story.

(S-R archives photo:Tubbs Hill rainbow)

Can’t sleep? blame the moon

When the full moon shines into our bedroom window, my husband often says, “Why did you leave the outside light on?” And later, as he snores away, I am up pacing through the house in the dark, unable to sleep.

Finally, research supports my experience: the full moon messes with our sleep patterns, and maybe even those of animals. One night as I was walking through our darkened home, I gazed through the huge living room window to see a deer gazing back at me.

“You, too?”  I asked. 

(S-R archives photo: A full moon illuminates Garnet Ghost Town, Mont.)

Pope Francis: Marathon man

OK, this story on CathNewsUSA got my attention.

It begins:

The 76-year-old Argentine Jesuit, who lost most of one lung following an infection in his youth, has been acting like a man half his age during his first international trip as pope, adding in events at the last minute to his already full schedule and gamely going with the flow after heavy rains forced major changes in the World Youth Day agenda.

His spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted Thursday that such vigorous activity has been the norm at the Vatican ever since Francis came to town, saying the Vatican’s usually staid bureaucrats were getting “stressed out” by his pace – and that that was a good thing.

But he quipped: “I’m happy we’re half-way through because if it were any longer I’d be destroyed.”

Will you be this strong at 76? I can only pray….

(S-R file photo)

Breakfast: Force yourself

The journal Circulation recently reported on a longitudinal study of 27,000 men that showed those who ate breakfast regularly cut their risk of a heart attack.

Men who skipped breakfast, meanwhile, raised their risk by 27 percent. Read NPR story.

I was a breakfast eater all my life until my early 20s when I stopped for reasons I can't remember now. I knew I should eat breakfast again, but I was never hungry in the morning. A friend told me to force some toast down each morning for one month and by the end of the month of forced toast, my love of breakfast returned and has never left.

My husband wasn't a breakfast eater and when a doc told him he really should be, he tried the 30-day “force feeding.” This was about 20 years ago, and it worked for him, too. And we don't just eat toast. We're hungry in the morning (especially after exercising.)

You can try this at home. It's a potential lifesaver.

(S-R archive photo)

Name the babe

So many of us spend time and thought when naming our children. William and Kate have that extra royal pressure of naming their child as a future monarch: George Alexander Louis, welcome to the world.

We hope for only happiness and good health for this grandchild of Diana.

What considerations did you entertain when naming your child? 

(S-R photo)

Beehives and other boomer myths

In my Monday Boomer U story, I examined the myths we boomers grew up in the 1960s, including the one where the black widow spider nested in a teen's beehive and when the spider eggs hatched, they bit the teen's scalp, killing her. Great illustration by Spokesman artist Molly Quinn. Thanks Molly! Anyone know the urban legends adolescents are growing up with today? 

Advice, please

After 23 years of working for the same organization, I have resigned my position and am now…home. Retirement? Refocus? Renewal? Rethinking possibilities for the future? Relaxing? Time will tell. Seem to be having trouble with the relaxing thing.

If there is no other formal employment (aside from writing projects), what steps should be taken for a healthy, enjoyable retirement or transition time?

Here is what I have been told so far:

  •  Make no long-term commitments for one year (Johnny)
  •  Think of retirement as simply choosing when and how you want to work (Johnny)
  •  Stay involved in some things as it adds to longevity and makes life interesting (Bill)
  •  Don’t be in a hurry to create a new routine – it will emerge (Mitzi)

     What helpful advice do you have to offer when someone ends work and lands at home?

Retired good health

The report is out once again on where the healthiest places are in the country to live once one is retired.

Washington state is among the better places to live during retirement. Lifestyle choices along the way - what we eat and our activity level - determine our fate, but also factors like poverty and education influence those choices (or lack of).

What healthy habits are you forming to make your later years healthy ones?

(S-R archives photo)

When Happy Birthday doesn’t work

A friend's husband was diagnosed this summer with cancer, and the friend is being a fierce warrior for the man she's loved a long time. The cancer involves treatments out of town, so there's travel and lodging and keeping one hand in the treatment and one hand in her life here.

It's her birthday this week, and she's not in any mood to celebrate and so to honor where she is right now, I sent her a card that said “Fierce Birthday.”

Any suggestions out there on how to honor birthdays when someone is going through a challenging time and “Happy” just doesn't seem the right word?


Want fries…or salad…with that burger?

Boomers once again are driving an industry: restaurants. Stats show that we are the major consumers at restaurants – not our 20-something children who are struggling a bit in this economy. (See story.)

(S-R photo archives: Fery Haghighi has been running restaurants in the Spokane area for more than 30 years.)

Greatest Generation: Millions in the basement?

A financial advisor friend once told me he thinks the Greatest Generation — the 5 million of them still with us — might have more money stashed in places in their homes or in bank accounts than anyone can imagine.

Boomer children, he said, will discover the stashes upon a parent's death. This really happened recently to sportswriter Selena Roberts, who wrote for both The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, according to an article on Deadspin.

Her mother died. While going through her things, she found a portfolio of stocks, bonds and real estate worth an amount Roberts would only reveal as “seven figures.”

Roberts is now working on building a website and making short films about sports.

Roberts discovered other stuff about her mother who had worked as a teacher and health care policy analyst.

“I was surprised she had done as well as she did…It's a pretty cool thing that she was very generous with a lot of people that I didn't know throughout her life. That was one of the things that I found going through that book. She gave to a lot of causes anonymously. I'm really proud of the person she was. I wish I knew a little bit more about it when it was going on.”

Young, handsome, talented…dead

Apparently addiction has claimed another life of a talented young star.

Cory Monteith, 31, a rising star on  the FOX network series “Glee,” was found dead in a Vancouver, British Columbia hotel room Saturday. (See story.)

The pull of addiction claims so many young, gifted performers. How can our society end this contemporary form of evil?

And, today, close friends of ours had their apartment ransacked while they were attending church.

The investigating officers told our friends: most likely the thieves will sell their belongings quickly and use the money to buy…drugs. 

(S-R archives photo: Actors Lea Michele and Cory Monteith film a scene for the television show “Glee” on location in Central Park in New York, Tuesday, April 26, 2011.)

RIP: Bill’s taco salad

A friend gave me a memorial card she received from another friend. She had remembered I wrote recently about how memorial programs will get even more popular, more elaborate and much more creative in coming years.

This friend of a friend's memorial program included a recipe for Bill's “world famous” taco salad.

Here's the recipe:

1 pound ground beef

1 can (8 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 head iceberg lettuce

2 large red tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup coarsely cut green onion

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup Thousand Island dressing

1/2 cup Victoria salsa (hot)

3/4 cup sliced black olives

1 package taco seasoning

1/4 cup jalapenos sliced and chopped

Corn chips, coarsely crushed

Brown meat and drain fat. Add taco seasoning, 1/2 cup water and kidney beans. Simmer until moisture is absorbed. Remove from heat to cool. In a large bowl, break up lettuce, add olives, green onions, tomatoes and jalapenos and toss with 1/2 cup Thousand Island dressing. Add meat mixture (cooked and cooled), cheese, salsa and remaining Thousand Island dressing. Add more dressing if desired. Serve with corn chips tossed in.

(S-R file photo)

Phil Codd: We Nappi kids will miss you

The six Nappi “kids” grew up in the Downriver neighborhood next door to the Codd family, famous in the neighborhood for having 11 children.

We each had a Codd our own age, and so it was instant playmates and never a problem finding enough kids for a baseball game or hide and seek.

Last week, suddenly while on a run in Riverside State Park, Phil Codd died at 64. Read his obit here.

He was an uber runner, a retired emergency department nurse at Providence Sacred Heart, beloved by staff and patients alike. He married later in life to the beautiful Carrie who described meeting him in a hospital staff room and it was like in the movies — love at first sight.

His confident 13-year-old daughter stood up and said she was glad she had an older father, because she learned to love his “old” music from the 1960s.

The service was packed. And after, the Nappi kids and the Codd kids stayed behind and talked and hugged and cried and remembered.

When the first of the “neighbor kids” of your childhood dies, it's a big, sad deal. Phil was our first neighbor kid.

A gentle man, he reminds all of us how fast it goes, how we can be gone so quickly ourselves.

Thanks Phil, for sharing your childhood with the Nappi kids.

(Memorial program art by Paul Codd, Phil's youngest brother)

Celebrating 60: Coug tattoos

From Jackie Babin…”proud WSU Alumni.”

My 60th was almost four years ago. My sister and my favorite cousin felt I should do something special. They suggested I parachute out of a plane. Since I preferred to live to celebrate my 70th birthday, I compromised and got a tattoo that I had tried to talk myself into over 25 years ago. I love it. Conversation starter on the golf course! Go Cougs. I made my  sister Charlotte get one on her 60th last year…flowers for her. Cousin Julie…your turn next!!!

Celebrating 60 with the Beatles

Margie Heller calebrated her 60th birthday this way:

I didn't make a big deal out of my 60th. Turning 50 had been scary for me; I'd had a big party then so friends could help me get through it. But this year I turned 64. I've always loved the Beatles' song, “When I'm Sixty-four,” and so I sent out invitations to everyone I could think of reading “Will you still need me, will you still feed me?” So many friends came (bringing potluck dishes) that there was hardly any room to park! Someone brought copies of the song words, so we all sang along to the recording. It was so much fun! Remembering how cute and quaint this song seemed when I was 30, I could hardly believe that I'd actually made it to 64.

My one regret was that my husband, who needed and often fed me for 35 years, could not be there — he died of cancer three years ago.

60th birthday: Cheerleading in Vegas

I am going to run some of the 60th birthday celebrations readers told me about too late to include for my Boomer U story last Monday.

Here's how my Mary Margaret Brajcich celebrated the Six-Oh.

My two “old” cheerleading buddies from Calgary decided to celebrate our 60th birthdays in Las Vegas on Halloween this past October. I was constantly trying to keep them out of trouble! My only regret was not riding the zip line downtown in old Las Vegas! Who says we have to grow up?

1962 birthday party on Heroy Avenue

Thank you Mary Thibault Akiyama for emailing me this photo of your backyard birthday party in 1962 on Heroy near Shadle Center.

Mary posted it on Facebook after reading my Monday Boomer U story about celebrating 60th birthdays and how fondly most boomers remember their childhood backyard birthday parties.

What I love about this photo:

1) All of us are wearing dresses to a backyard party. Some look like our First Communion dresses.

2) Kim Lynch and her sister, Megan, are in the front row. Megan died in 1995 of breast cancer at age 38. I know her parents  — and siblings — will be happy to see this photo of Megan.

3) It reminds all of us that one of the best gifts you can give someone in grief is sending a photo of their deceased loved one that they likely don't have.

Thanks Mary!

(Photo courtesy of Mary Thibault Akiyama)

Connecting at the source

In my Monday Boomer U story, I wrote about the ways men and women will celebrate 60, a milestone birthday for boomers.

“Sixty is really a pivotal age,” said Kathy Merlock Jackson in a recent phone interview. The 57-year-old boomer and Virginia Wesleyan College professor is the author of “Rituals and Patterns in Children’s Lives.”

“You’re becoming a senior citizen. It’s the last really big bash before retirement. Parties are celebrations of growing older and what you can still do.”

The story was fun to report, because it was about birthdays and all the folks who shared their 60th birthday memories were terrific. (Look for some birthday stories this week here from readers who sent their stories in after the deadline.)

And I really lucked out on finding the perfect source for the story, Kathy Merlock Jackson. I was Googling children's birthday party rituals, stumbled upon her book, emailed her and she emailed right back and we did the interview by phone the next day. She was with her father, who is in his 90s, and was in the hospital.

We clicked right away. Same age. Same memories of boomer birthday parties. Both us have elderly parents. I hung up the phone and said to my colleagues: “I love this job.”

Thanks for all who participated in my 60-birthday reporting. It made my week.

(Photo of Molly Huss' dragon boat race at her 60th birthday celebration.)



Young men in pink

When two great-nephews, on two separate Hoopfest teams, arrived at their games Saturday in electric pink team shirts, I knew we weren't in boomer-color rules anymore.

In my younger years, no teen boy would be caught wearing pink.

But everywhere at Hoopfest Saturday, I saw boy teams in electric pink. And fluorescent lime was popular with the boys, too.

Perhaps the gender color barriers — blue for boys, pink for girls — are gone for good.

(Tony Wadden 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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