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Archive for November 2013

Thanksgiving words

The Thanksgivings

  by Harriet Maxwell Converse
Translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer

“We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.

We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.

We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on. We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands. We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.

We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all.

We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.

We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning that water the earth.

We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.

We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank           all its trees.

We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.

We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.

We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o. We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.

We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music, and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.

We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies on this occasion.”

What are your words of thanksgiving? 

(S-R archive photo)




Thanksgiving and shopping?!

I remember when the stores closed on Sunday (I was a child, yes), while a few drug stores and gas stations remained open “for an emergency,” my parents said. No emergency ever made its way into our family on Sunday.

And now…retailers are whining over anticipated lost profits because our national day of Thanksgiving is a bit tardy this year. So, come all ye consumers and spend, spend spend.


Protest, says Ellen Galinsky, co-founder and president of Families and Work Institute: stay home. Vote with your slippered feet and full belly and fireplace flickering light upon the faces you love. Time together offers a better return on one’s investment in relationships, serving a menu of love, worthy of one’s undivided attention. 

(S-R archive photo)

Amazing (g)Race

Each Sunday my husband and I watch the Amazing Race: a reality show with pairs of people who “race” in various places around the world completing tasks. The last team most weeks is eliminated from the competition. At the end, the winner from the final three teams wins one million dollars. Nice.

Sure, I’d eat weird food, repel off the side of a tall building, and work hard to bridge cultural challenges as part of the Race. But when we watch, sometimes we comment: “Oh, we could have done that 30 years ago, but now…umm. Hmmm.”

Wisdom from our armchair observations: always read the clue to the end and follow it, don’t try to second guess the outcome. Some contestants had to repeat or lost a leg of the race because they took a cab, when instructed to walk. The tasks using brute strength (gross motor skills) seem easier than ones appearing easy: arrange 12 kinds of fruit on a plate, in order, various amounts, serve the customers. No, thanks, too much room for error. I’ll build the crab pot. And sometimes, really nice people win.

But why not an Amazing Race for aging Boomers who are skilled with more brains and experience than brute strength? No cab drivers, instead find your way in a foreign city by yourselves, communicate with strangers and decode the clues to the next location. Offer tasks requiring deductive reasoning – not marathon-running lungs.

While waiting for a more age-appropriate version of the Race, we will continue to view the competitive tasks in faraway places. Grateful we have made it to our station in life – through amazing grace.

(S-R archive photo: Executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who won an Emmy for outstanding reality-competition program for his work on “The Amazing Race,” May 2005.)

November 22, 1963: Where were you?

Most Americans over the age of 55 remember the news from 50 years ago: President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. I was sitting in Miss Martinson’s third grade classroom. She was wearing a navy blue dress with pearls. Teachers were summoned to the principal’s office and when Miss Martinson returned, she said, “Children, our president has been shot.” No one spoke and then someone wheeled in a black and white television on a big stand. We watched the news until we left for home.

My parents had the television on and watched it during dinner. My dad was in charge of the school book sale and had to return to school that night. I went with him. In the following days, I recall the somber environment at home and watching the procession of the casket and soldiers and the clip-clop sound of horses’ feet on pavement. Caroline Kennedy was near my age. I felt sad her dad was killed. I wondered what it would feel like to lose my dad. I saw my dad cry as we watched a nation mourn and grieve. My dad never cried in front of his daughters.

Someone called my Uncle Larry and said, “I hope you choke on your turkey!” My uncle’s last name was Oswald – but he lived in Duluth. I asked my dad why someone would think my uncle killed the president. “Stupidity,” he said.

The assassination of President Kennedy remains in the memories of my generation. We all know where we were, how we heard, what we felt. And 50 years later, I still have the same reaction: such deep, profound sadness for Caroline Kennedy.

Where were you?

(S-R archive photo: This undated file photo shows the Kennedy brothers, John F. Kennedy, left, Robert Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy, right, in Hyannis Port, Mass. )

Welcome home!

This week people all over the country celebrate their new lives: walking down the aisle, making solemn promises with family and friends present and then all those witnesses who have been there before. The real deal.

Yes, families all over the country begin new lives this week, National Adoption Week. More than 140 foster children in Washington state will settle into their forever families, legally part of a clan who claims them.

Each year my son, Alex, born in Paraguay and placed in my arms when he was four months, and I attend the local process and community celebration. Each year he loved to sit in that courtroom, listen to the lawyers, watch kids squirm and then cheer with the crowd. We ate cake and pushed through balloon bouquets to talk to people. Kindred spirits.

Today, in Olympia, Friday in Spokane: a legal process and endless, unconditional love will create new families. Many will say how lucky those children are – but all adoptive parents know the truth: we, as parents, are the lucky ones. Profoundly blessed.

Welcome home, sweet children!

(S-R archive photo: Alex on his citizenship day)


Oh, nuts!

Eat them. They are good for you and may lower your risk of cancer and death due to heart disease. Seems they will help you stay slimmer, too. While the study cannot prove cause and effect, it does seem to demonstrate a connection. So, grab a handful – every day – and you may find you not only feel satisfied, you will actually be healthier, too.

(S-R archive photo)

A perfect match

Sometimes I look in my closet and see two items hanging next to each other and think, “A perfect match! Never would have thought of it!”

Sunday night CBS aired two segments on 60 Minutes adjacent to each other: The Giving Pledge and  The Recyclers: From Trash Comes Triumph. They seem a perfect match.

The Giving Pledge is a new club inspired by Northwest neighbors Bill and Melinda Gates in association with Warren Buffett. Membership? Be worth at least a billion dollars and be willing to give at least half of it away, either during one’s lifetime or through a will at the time of death. The wealthy entrepreneurs have specific causes they support: eradicate polio around the world through immunization, end global warming, educate girls – no specific destination for the billionaires’ money, just a shared goal: to improve life on the planet.  

And then those musicians: children living in Cateura, Paraguay within a garbage dump, their families -2500 of them - known as the garbage pickers. No electricity or running water, many children leave for life with gangs. The garbage dump “employs” hundreds of farmers who were kicked off the large farms where they once worked. They pick through garbage to find items like plastic and cardboard to recycle.

The idea of a music school came from an environmental technician and musician, Favio Chávez, when a garbage picker named Nicolás Gómez found a piece of trash resembling a violin and brought it to Chávez. Using other objects collected from the dump, the pair constructed a functional violin and gave birth to hope through music. An orchestra was born. A discarded roasting pan is hammered into the body of a violin, the spike of a woman’s shoe cranks the string into perfect pitch. And a grandmother, with dreams of singing and performing herself, sees her dreams realized through her grandchildren.

Slowly, the world is learning of Cateura: a documentary film titled “The Landfill Harmonic” has been completed. 

“People realize that we shouldn’t throw away trash carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw away people either,” says one Cateura musician.

What if those billionaires collaborated with Cateura and planners and other brainiacs and built a real recycling center, training and employing the people to operate the center, bringing electricity and clean water and decent housing? And what if the recycled instruments were manufactured on-site, perhaps sold to others, and the billionaires built a music school where those musicians could play out of the rain?

What if the billionaires and the garbage pickers would hang together for a while? What would happen? From here, it looks like a perfect match.

(Graphic:S-R archives)

Do you see who I see?

Ted Ketcham’s Boomer U story today reminds readers of their view of the world - and who is in it. The invisibility factor presents not just with age, but with disabilities, sexual orientation, gender and other defining qualities.

Yes, there is a certain grace that comes with blending in and not having to be in charge. But when you want your presence or voice to be acknowledged, to be shunned is “soul-crushing.”

Have you experienced the “invisible factor?”

(S-R archive photo:Sept. 26, 2013 photo, 80-year-old Marianne Blomberg works out at a gym in Stockholm.)

Holy Smokes!

San Francisco left its heart with a small child who has already fought a great enemy: leukemia.  Miles Scott charmed the city as he “fought” crime and enjoyed the privilege of “saving” the city during his day as his favorite superhero: Batman.

Thousands of people put their routines and politics aside to empower this little boy for one day, bestowing the title “Bat Kid” on him. No more leukemia treatments, the end of a journey and the beginning of dreams coming true. Nice work, San Fran.

(S-R archive photo: John Ewing waits outside of City Hall for the Batkid, Miles Scott, 5, to make an appearance at a rally in San Francisco on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.)

Children who care

We know many older adults who are raising their grandchildren, but in our country 1.4 million children are primary caregivers for older adults. Chris Miller, 13, is the primary caregiver for his grandmother who suffers with chronic illness. She has been his guardian for the last 10 years. He cares for her – watching her medications, preparing meals, anxious that she may someday be too ill to go on. And he will be left alone.

In a country that pays professional athletes zillions of dollars and spends time strolling malls for meaning, can’t we find a way to support these families? Find ways to allow these children time to be children? Teens need time to imagine and dream – not be thrust into the role of parent. The very least we owe our children is a secure childhood. 

(S-R archive photo)

Fat chance

People who are overweight know they are overweight. So when a doctor says simply, “You are overweight and need to lose some pounds,” the words alone are not helpful. Would a doctor say the same for any other diagnosis? “You have cancer, you need to not.” Never.

The medical profession along with insurance providers may finally respond to obesity for what it is: a health condition requiring medical care. Last year Medicare began paying for one-to-one care for patients seeking help with losing weight. Next year insurance companies are expected to follow.(See story)

(S-R archive photo)

Male or female boss: preference?

While women have worked hard to work hard in the world, a recent poll reveals that more employees still prefer a male boss. Umm, me, too. Only because my best bosses have been men.  One amazing female boss, several great men.

Thoughts? Experiences?

It takes (only) a village

A young boy who had terminal brain cancer died knowing what some people never know or experience: he is loved.

Devin Kohlman knew what he wanted in his last weeks of life: to be home with his family, in his community to celebrate his favorite holiday, Christmas.

Flown from Cincinnati where he was being cared for to his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, Devin was welcomed by friends and community members, some he may not have known. He spent his last weeks with visitors, receiving cards and gifts, some from across the world. People brought Christmas to him;  spontaneous Christmas celebrated with love, never mind the calendar.

We easily define ourselves through work, accomplishments, while we scurry frantically through life. But in the end, it seems our precious time with loved ones is the greatest gift we have. A gift easily overlooked – until it is too late. Merry Christmas, Devin.

(S-R archive photo: The St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Italy, 2011)

Mammogram = lifesaver

ABC reporter Amy Robach, 40, took the assignment a bit reluctantly: have a mammogram as part of a Good Morning, America segment during October’s breast cancer awareness effort.

When the results came back positive for cancer, she was stunned – and shared her reaction on GMA. Amy will undergo surgery on Thursday as part of her aggressive treatment plan. She appeared fighting tears as she spoke with her colleagues – her husband at her side – to the viewing audience.

As part of the segment, viewers were told that when one woman has a mammogram and tells others, she influences at least 15 other women to consider that screening procedure.

Nine years ago when a mammogram told me I had breast cancer, I wrote a column for the local paper and it appeared on the wall of a women’s clinic. A friend told me she saw it there. I had no idea my words were posted for other women to read, encouraging them to get a mammogram.

Sharing her screening, its results and her treatment plan, Amy will reach 15 women and millions more. In saving her own life, she is saving countless others. Take heed.

(S-R archive photo: Actress Sarah Chalke gets a mammogram in this scene from “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy,” 2006)

Veterans Day

We buy poppy flowers and wear them on Veterans Day to remember those who died in war. Where did the tradition originate? What is the story behind the poem? On behalf of our community, thank you to all who have served and continue to serve our country.


In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


(S-R archives photo)

Quilts of Valor

Many of us remember the Viet Nam war and the turbulence and rage that erupted within our country during that time. Many people took out their rage in a despicable way: on some of the veterans who returned from that war.

For those of us who have never seen military combat, we cannot fathom the violence, the loss of life, the fear or the aftermath. But we can honor those women and men who served our country.

One woman started a magnificent gesture of kindness and care – giving quilts to combat service members and veterans.  Catherine Roberts, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in the early 1970s, became a nurse and then a mid-wife. In 2003, her son deployed for Iraq as a gunner. She founded Quilts of Valor. To date, 91,566 quilts have been presented to members of the military. 

 “Knowing that I was ‘10 seconds from panic’ while he was deployed, I had this vision of a post-deployed warrior struggling with his war demons at 2 in the morning.  I saw him sitting on the side of his bed wrapped in a quilt.  That quilt not only comforted but warded off his war demons.  Thus QOVF was founded.  The mission was simple:  To cover all those wounded warriors with both physical and psychological wounds with a Quilt of Valor.

And for those veterans who returned from Viet Nam? While they may not have received a quilt upon their return, it’s never too late to say “thank you.” 

(S-R archive photo: Sharon Ledbetter, director of the Quilts for Valor Foundation, is seen at the quilt show.)

A day for veterans

We would see flags displayed on Veterans Day when we were children and knew the day was about “soldiers.” I knew my dad had been a Marine and served in China toward the end of WWII.

I have a little jade goat he brought home– long before I was born. But when I was a child, I told people he bought it for me. Little did I understand that he spent not his money there, but his time there – for me.

How did this holiday of honor and remembrance begin? See story.

(S-R archive photo: U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945.)

My, what big eyes you …had

In a time I call BHE (Before Husband Era), a man who loved me held my hand and said, “Cathy, when you look at me with those big brown eyes, how can I ever say no to you?!” Never mind the man, the context or the reply. Those big brown eyes are causing problems these days – not relationship problems, but vision issues.

At a recent eye exam the doctor asked me if I had any concerns. So I told him about my eye fatigue when driving for more than 30 minutes and how tired my eyes felt after a few minutes at the computer. And, yes, when reading books I have to kinda hold my left lid up a bit to improve the field of vision.

“Hmmmm,” he said. Never a good response from a doc. Something catastrophic? He needs more time to think? Clueless? No, ptosis or eyelid drooping, an actual diagnosis of a medical condition with a surgical cure.

“What if you cut through my lid and slit my eyeball?” I asked.

The doc explained: humans have five layers of eyelid and he will cut through three of them. But when he said something about tinkering in there, and no chance of an eyeball slit since he will put metal shields over my actual eyeballs, I stopped listening because I wanted to throw up.

“Cathy, many people actually come to me and pay for this procedure as a cosmetic improvement. You need it to see and function better and you need both eyes done,” he said.

So, this morning my man of HE (Husband Era) will drive me to the outpatient surgery center, where I will undergo a little local anesthesia, hopefully preceded by strong, relaxing drugs, and then a little tinkering will lift my eyelids up.

How will this event turn out? I guess I’ll see.

(S-R archive photo)

Leadership ~ Pope Francis style

Many baby boomers have spent days in conferences, workshops and endless events learning about leadership. As someone who supervised others for over 20 years, I remember when we were all “shifting our paradigms” and of course, “thinking outside the box.” Never did find the box. Now we are focused on who may be “throwing someone under the bus.” I actually walked outside one day and came in to report “there is no bus and therefore no one is under it. What are you trying to tell me?”  Today, the jargon includes “transformational leadership,” transforming others, of course with “robust conversations.” Oh, please.

The leaders I admire are people who lead with self-confidence, not seminar jargon. Good leaders take the long view of the future and empower talented workers to do their jobs – then give those workers the tools as well as credit for their success. My management training came not from seminars and conferences, but from working with leaders possessing compassion, grace and wisdom. And humor.

Authentic leaders must be concerned about doing the right thing for the organization, leading with confidence and compassion as well as admitting their own limitations. When people lead with humility and self-awareness as well as vision for the future – employees follow eagerly.

Author Chris Lowney, a former Jesuit seminarian, has written a book on leadership “Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads.” Lowney claims that Francis is simply being who he is – not trying to act like a pope.

Lowney writes: “Be comfortable in your own skin. Know who you are, the good and the bad. And find the courage not just to be yourself, but to be the best version of yourself. These are the foundations of self-leadership, and all leadership starts with self-leadership because you can’t lead the rest of us if you can’t lead yourself.”

Makes perfect, paradigm-shifting, papal sense.

(S-R archive photo: Pope Francis wears an indigenous headdress given to him by Ubirai Matos from the Pataxo tribe, fourth from left, after the pontiff spoke at Rio's Municipal Theater to an audience mostly made up of Brazil's political, business and cultural elite in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, July 27, 2013.)

Life’s ending ~ our choice?

If you were in a critically compromised health state (you determine what that means), would you choose to discontinue your life?

An Indiana man did exactly that after suffering a fall. Tim Bowers, 32, fell out of a tree while hunting, crushing his C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae. He would need constant care, including ventilator-assisted breathing, for the rest of his life.  Family and care givers asked Tim if he wanted to continue his life and he emphatically shook his head “no.”

Tim died peacefully with friends and loved ones at his side. 

(S-R archive photo: Lovely R. Suanino, a respiratory therapist at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, N.J., demonstrates setting up a ventilator.)

Not only in grade school

Bullying is not limited to grade school playgrounds or high school locker rooms. Apparently, bullies appear in all strata of life – even the NFL. (Seahawks? not tolerated)

When will torturing and teasing and intimidation be seen for what those behaviors may really be? Bullying.

No matter the $$$ in one’s wallet or age or social status; to oppress, hound, mistreat or harass another person is to bully that person.  It is what it is, no matter how you dress it up – even if you wear an NFL jersey.

Eyes of God

At Mass on Sunday a man came in and sat in the pew ahead of us. He may live on the streets, given his appearance and apparent lack of access to personal hygiene. And he may have mental health issues.  I wondered about him, never having seen him before in our church – which welcomes anyone and many of our “anyones” are poor and marginalized folks. I wondered if I should take my purse with me to Communion and not leave it in the pew.

Before Mass he walked over and asked the music director if he could play the piano for a moment. The music director said yes and the man played for a minute or two. Lovely music with sophisticated chords came from his cracked and dirty fingers. He returned to his seat.

Father Jim preached about the Gospel when Jesus welcomes in the least likely – little Zaccheus – a wealthy tax collector not known for his ethics who climbs the tree to see Jesus, but not so much be seen. Jesus calls him down and welcomes him. An unlikely pair perhaps, according to Jesus’ faithful and devoted regulars. But as Father Jim noted, God sees beyond what we see in each other and into hearts, lives and our journeys. God sees goodness where we may not…

After the homily when the collection basket moved among the pews, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out all the coins he could reach, dropping them into the basket. I didn’t gasp or cry, but I wanted to. His generous heart and apparent limited means seemed a contradiction. We shook hands at the Sign of Peace and he eagerly reached to all of us around him. He processed to Communion, asking only a blessing, then settled back comfortably into his place.  After Mass I looked around to see if he was getting coffee or food, and then I heard him – at the piano.

On Sunday I heard God’s Word proclaimed in Luke’s Gospel, but the louder message came straight from a piano keyboard, where an unknown generous man played classical music with his cracking, dirty hands.

(S-R archive photo)

A moment

With our country saturated with violence, we can easily become desensitized to the mayhem and evil.

At LAX on Friday, another man, with a gun and the determination to kill, took another person’s life. It seems the least we can do is take a moment to learn about the man, Gerardo I. Hernandez, who lost his life – a man who went to LAX to earn a living, supporting his family whom he loved. May his family and friends find comfort and peace in the difficult days ahead. 

(S-R archive photo)

Watch your step

We have all suffered something: loss, disappointment, pain. But Roya Cohen suffered horrible trauma as a young teen: she was sexually assaulted – twice.

Now she is taking steps to heal: she is dancing. When Roya heard her dance instructor tell her, “You need to be strong. You need to keep your space. Don't let me walk over you,” she heard lessons for life.

Roya has been transformed by her steps on the dance floor and wants to share this avenue for healing with other girls who have suffered trauma similar to her own. She is raising money for dance class scholarships so any victimized girl who wants to step out on the floor at Diamond Ballroom in Kirkland, Wash. will be able to dance toward a life of healing and hope.

(S-R archive photo)

“A little bit of all right”

All Saints’ Day today: we often think of saints as the officially named people who died as great martyrs centuries ago. But sometimes saints live among us – in the heroic actions of humble people we encounter.

Last month Darnell Barton started his day as usual: picking up high school students on his bus route. When he noticed a woman in distress – preparing to jump to her death – he stopped. And saved her from jumping.

Perspective means everything. No matter the despair human beings suffer, when another person offers hope, our world view – and view of ourselves in the world – can shift dramatically. Darnell Barton saved a woman from plummeting to her death – and offered her a glimpse of the goodness we are capable of giving to each other. Seems he has more than “a little bit of all right” going on.

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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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