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Archive for October 2013

Sandy survivors – one year later

We remember the images of rain, wind, storm surge and massive destruction brought by Superstorm Sandy along the East Coast one year ago. The re-building continues with drywall and insulation as well as courage. Lots and lots of courage.

Perhaps most poignant were images of nurses and other hospital staff tending to the infants – some with serious medical conditions. Staff carried infants down several flights of stairs while watching monitors, and listening for directions in the midnight darkness, “Step, step, step…”  They evacuated the powerless building and got those babies and their families transported safely to other hospitals.

One year later all those babies are active toddlers now – healthy and moving forward: step, step, step. 

(S-R archive photo: Queens, N.Y.)

Poverty and its lasting imprint

A person raised in extreme poverty may suffer long-lasting consequences – showing up on one’s brain. Chronic stress caused by poverty actually shows up on the brain and may be the cause of physical and mental ailments later in life.

Social workers include childhood poverty in a term titled “ACEs” or Adverse Childhood  Experiences. Poverty, neglect, abuse, trauma, all may contribute to challenges in adulthood, challenges from mild learning disabilities to criminal behavior.

As we look at our society and wonder how to address challenging problems, perhaps the answer is in part at the very beginning: good pre-natal care for pregnant women and education, support and opportunities for families. Seems the very least we can offer our children is a secure beginning.

(S-R archives photo)

She’s back ~ Bridget Jones

She is back!  That lovable, fallible character created by Helen Fielding: Bridget Jones. She is “of a certain age” now. A boomer? Bridget lives in a world of email, tweets and twitter, a life well-lived. Perhaps. Is Daniel still hanging around? Her hunky man, Mark Darcy? Is she still a “top-notch journalist”?

 Fielding's book “Mad about the Boy” takes the reader into Bridget’s life once again. But who is the boy?


For Becky

Today, Rebecca Nappi writes words of good-bye as she leaves the Spokesman-Review. I will miss my friend on these pages.

We met in college 40 years ago - 40 years! As college freshmen, we were clueless about almost everything as we innocently explored the world, in a Gonzaga dorm and  later through the streets of Florence. We have seen each other through good times and bad – that meant boyfriends and weird hairstyles and what will happen next?! in the college years and soon it meant post-graduation plans. When classmates would ask each of us our plans, I could recite her spiel “graduate school at Columbia, the one in Missouri.” And she could explain mine: “going to work at a Catholic Church as the education director.”   After 1977, we bridged the miles with letters and sometimes phone calls. We hold memories and a few secrets from those years, years before husbands and life choices and the drama of adulthood.

The 40 years between friends offers gifts of mutual acceptance and a shared history we never need to explain. Inside jokes (praayyeerr!) and the occasional reminiscing of who we once were – the young women who still live beneath the aging faces - nurture a connection not found with others who never knew the Becky and Cathy of decades ago. We know the blessing of long-term friendship and cherish its gifts.

Becky, through the years you have been a faithful friend, a sturdy shelter – not only to me, but to the community. I am certain you will never know the impact of your work on readers’ lives. You are a truth-teller. You venture into the corners of life and shine light – with words, compassion and great insight. Your legacy remains. As you transition to your encore career, we will miss you on these pages, but your readers and friends send you forth with great gratitude and affection. May your gifts continue to bless, educate and inspire others.

Ciao, Bella.

(S-R archive photo)

Saying goodbye to journalism

So this, my farewell story, ran in today's Spokesman-Review. After 28 years here, I'm trading journalism for an encore career in health care. And this blog officially now belongs to my co-writer Catherine Johnston. Thanks for reading EndNotes. Please continue reading. And thanks for reading the newspaper, too. It helps journalism stay alive and kicking! Blessings, Becky.

I think I hear someone…

Have you ever wondered what has happened inside your home before you lived in it? Ever wonder if someone died in your home?

Now there is a website (of course) where you can seek that information. reportedly will give you that information. One search will cost you $11.99; costs increase with each request.

If someone has taken their last breath in the home where you now live, what, if any would you fear? As for me, I am more worried about any unwanted living guests. Seems the Halloween season is a good time to promote this interesting “service” (see story).

(S-R archive photo

Mistaken identity

Earlier this week a Western Washington family opened the casket of their loved one to say a last good-bye and found – another man’s body (story).

Somehow the bodies were mixed up and the body of the man people thought was in the casket had been cremated. The deceased's wishes included the feeling he was terrified of the cremation process and wanted his body to be buried.

Must we re-create the honoring of our deceased loved ones to include “safeguarding” their bodies? Some cultures have a family member remain with the body from time of death to burial or cremation. Seems that in the intimate process of what happens to a loved one’s remains, we must demand zero tolerance of errors. 

(S-R archive photo: Spokane sunset as seen from Cliff Drive overlook.)

Got drugs?

Many of us have prescription medications we needed after surgery or for a specific illness – and many of us have those leftover or outdated medications still in the cabinet.  Keeping them can be dangerous: we can inadvertently grab those unneeded meds when groping in the medicine cabinet for aspirin or another medication or guests, maybe grandchildren, can access those drugs we no longer need.

On Saturday you can get rid of those drugs – safely.

Saturday is National Take-Back Initiative:  from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. law enforcement groups across the country will receive your outdated and/or unused prescription medications. Check the website for a location near your home.  

(S-R archive photo)

Oldest child = smarter?

Another study just released suggests the oldest child in a family may be smarter and more successful in life than the younger siblings. Hmmm.

We all know people for whom this theory seems correct. And we all know families where it does not fit - at all.

The attention and care given to a child, opportunities for education, healthy relationships and nurturing circumstances as well as the genetic lottery each person inherits may be more influential factors.


(S-R archive photo: Students stand in a school courtyard as they wait for the first day of classes to begin, in Mexico City, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. 


A recent study by The Opportunity Nation coalition claims that 15 percent of Americans from 16-24 years old are not in school or working. Concluding that the rest of the young adults are up to no good or floundering.

Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa said, “If they're not in school or at work, they're not usually doing something positive.”

Commentary on the study fails to account for young adults who choose other options, such as military service or volunteer opportunities, like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps or faith-based volunteer groups.

Before we assume what the rest of our young people are doing, perhaps we better look at all our 16-24 year-old-citizens – and acknowledge their choices beyond the “either work or school” viewpoint.

(S-R archive photo:U.S. Army Medal of Honor)

Tick tock

Scientists at UCLA have discovered a new “biological clock” that measures the age of human tissue. If future testing proves the research valid, the work has strong implications for anti-aging-research. Note: the goal is not to seek a fountain of youth, but to assist with diagnosing and treating disease.

Interesting findings include: women’s breast tissue ages faster than the rest of the body; cancerous tissue is on average 36 years older than other tissue.

(S-R: A mother and baby sketch by artist Valerie Woelk)

A prayerful, private president

One’s spirituality is unique and private. From the public’s vantage, President Obama maintains an extremely private and protected expression of his faith life.

However, according to Obama’s advisors, our president begins his morning by reading a devotional written just for him. The texts include scripture and literature.

While our country was founded on the separation of church and state, the state of our country often demands leaders seek wisdom beyond themselves. Said Obama last year: “This office tends to make a person pray more.”

Seems like a better avenue than the one some other elected leaders may have recently followed. 

(S-R archive photo)

Not cool

“It’s not really cool to not have anybody,” said 15-year-old Davion Only, the teen who went before a Florida church congregation asking for a family. No child – anywhere, at any time, for any reason - should have to ask for a family, to ask for love, acceptance and safety.

Davion’s courageous plea illustrates the need in our country to transform our priorities. While we flock to sporting events and shopping malls, seeking entertainment and stuff, flocks of children in the United States – an estimated 400,000+ -  wait for what many of us have had all our lives: a family, a home, a bed that is ours and knowing we are loved –always.

May Davion soon have a family, a place of his own in a new home, in hearts that love him forever. That would be cool.

(S-R archive photo)

Ed Lauter, class act

Character actor Ed Lauter, 74, died earlier this week. His name may leave one thinking, “Who?” But his face is familiar.

My nephew, Dan, however, is a huge fan of Lauter’s work and knows his face, his name and his work. Last year Dan was out on the town in Manhattan with his friends when he ducked into a restaurant  – and saw Lauter dining with his wife and friends.

Dan, extremely charming, went to Lauter’s table and started to chat. Lauter invited Dan to join them. Soon, Dan’s friends joined the group. Lauter bought drinks, asked questions and seemed just as interested in Dan’s work and life as Dan was in his. Hours later they departed the restaurant.

The entertainment industry mourns a good character actor and, as Dan knows, a man of good character, too.

(S-R archives photo: September 23, 2012)

Courage and tenderness

Army Capt. William Swenson received the Medal of Honor this week from President Obama for heroic actions performed in Afghanistan in 2009. Swenson, who now lives in Seattle, risked his life to save other troops, as well as Afghan allies, and he stayed in the fight to retrieve the bodies of four Americans killed in the battle.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of Swenson’s actions – caught on film by a medevac crewman – was when he kissed his wounded comrade on the head. The moment was their last together. The serviceman died a month later.

It takes courage for someone – a trained soldier as well as others - to stay in the middle of violence and perhaps even greater courage to hold the violence at bay, while pausing for a moment of profound and final compassion. 

(S-R photo: President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to former Army Capt. William D. Swenson, of Seattle, at the White House on Tuesday.)

Pink October

The pink ribbons are everywhere: on yogurt containers as well as pro football players' armbands. The message: breast cancer awareness month is here. Pay attention.

My story:  a routine mammogram (get one, please!) detected my stage zero (wildly aggressive cells, no tumor), breast cancer nine years ago. My care was the best because, as a healthcare worker, I knew thee person to go to for immediate treatment.  And I knew where to find support when I needed it most – usually in the dark of night as my family slept. I logged on and found information and comfort on various websites. Pink October feels like an appropriate time to share these life-saving, supportive resources.

FORCE:  (facing our risk of cancer empowered)

FORCE is the only national nonprofit organization devoted to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Our mission includes support, education, advocacy, awareness, and research specific to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Our programs serve anyone with a BRCA mutation or a family history of cancer.”  

While I did not have the genetic predisposition for breast cancer or ovarian cancer,  I found the information on this site extremely helpful. On the message boards I posted my detailed and intimate questions about breast cancer treatment and life after treatment. The women who wrote were profoundly generous - sharing their experiences and offering kindness. Two women sent me gifts and encouraging words. I will never meet them, but I will love them forever. They gave me hope.

A breast cancer site  addresses almost every conceivable topic. Spanish translation is available. Moderators organize the discussion board conversations by topic: stages and types of diagnosis and treatment, day-to-day concerns and recovery, renewal and hope. I posted a question and comments at three in the morning – minutes later a woman in Australia answered. The women who posted comments directed me to my next step: restoring my body with a medical dream team in New Orleans -  my NOLA saints!  Women come from around the world to receive care and healing from these compassionate and skilled physicians.

A breast cancer diagnosis is every woman’s nightmare.  Until medical research arrives at a cure, we will fight to survive this deadly disease. We will continue to tell our stories.   We will fight with courage, knowledge and companionship; we will carry each other through the darkness and celebrate each other’s recovery and renewal until one day - the nightmare is no more.  

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

The true tears of Glee

Finally got around to watching the Glee episode in which they addressed the death of Finn Hudson, played by Cory Monteith, a talented young actor who sadly overdosed in July.

The episode was excellent. And you could tell the tears were quite real. My weird brain can tell when newscasters, for instance, are faking sadness while reporting sad stories. They do it a lot. They likely have to because they report so much of it.

During the 9/11 reporting, the sad and shocked eyes on the faces of newscasters expressed genuine emotions. I felt the same with the Glee episode, especially the scene where Finn's family gathers in his room to sort through belongings.

Finn's mother sobbed: “You get to go on being a parent even though you don’t have a child anymore.”

(Archive photo of Glee cast, including Cory Monteith)

Now THAT’S baseball!

With all the Washington D.C. rhetoric making the news, it is difficult to focus on any other drama. Thank you, Boston. Game two of the American League Championship Series between Boston and Detroit offered baseball fans a wonderful diversion from politics.

The tension from Detroit’s perfect pitching and five runs was palpable from Boston’s Fenway Park to our family rooms.  With Boston up, a home run put Boston on the score board; then a Boston fan’s fairy tale made real when Boston’s David Ortiz hit a grand slam to tie the game. In the ninth inning the Red Sox broke the tie and won the game.

An object lesson for sure in a city that deserves a victory: never, ever give up.

(S-R archives photo: Pedestrians walk past a statue of former Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams outside Fenway Park in Boston.)

Malala Yousafzai …and millions more

The United Nations General Assembly  declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. The theme for the 2013 day is: educate girls and you change the world. Seems simple, but in many cultures girls are denied this basic human right. Learn more from Malala – and take action.

(S-R archives photo: Malala Yousafzai)

October: a time for settling scores

While Washington prattles on and on about what they cannot do, some of us are taking comfort in the season: October baseball. Settling in to see who dodges the pitch at the plate offers more peace than watching who dodges responsibility in D.C.

And it is a time to remember one of baseball’s great players, Andy Pafko, who died this week. Pafko played with Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron; he played in an era without ridiculous salaries and sneaky steroids. May we remember him as we watch the showdown – the one around the diamond.

The empty chairs

My mother's 92-year-old friend, Magaret, showed me her lovely, covered patio the other day. There are four chairs among flower pots and other garden decorations.

She said she used to sit in the chairs with her husband, sister-in-law and brother-in-law and they'd talk and laugh for hours in the summer afternoons.

They are gone now. Margaret told me she sometimes sits in her chair and imagines what she would tell them all now.

I am blessed to have a few 90-plus women in my life. Their casual conversations are filled with wisdom — and glimpses of ways to handle being one of the last left among your peers.

Writing your parents’ lives

In Monday's Boomer U, we ran an excerpt of the book Rain Delayed by Linda Merkel Walline. Her father Paul Merkel led a Whitworth College baseball team to a national championship in 1960, against great odds and on a shoestring budget.

Walline researched and wrote the book in her spare time and self-published it. It's a fascinating read because she captures the era her father grew up in, which led to choices he was forced to make. For instance:

He was good enough that he had his eye on obtaining a baseball scholarship from Washington State University, anticipating that a successful stint at WSU would provide his best opportunity to one day play professional ball. He initiated contact with the head coach and sent letters of reference, including an impressive tally of his accomplishments and leadership positions throughout high school…But my father had underestimated the strength of purpose with which his mother, a fundamentalist Christian widow and stern disciplinarian, approached the idea of her son attending college.She had forbidden him to play on any summer league team sponsored by a town tavern and had no intention of permitting her son to attend a state university, athletic scholarship or not. No, Whitworth was the college she had chosen for him; the fact that Whitworth did not have a baseball program in 1940 did little to deter her resolve.

If you were to research and write one key event in your parents' lives, what would it be?

(Photo of Paul Merkel courtesy of Linda Merkel Walline)

Elizabeth Smart: Woman of faith and courage

Elizabeth Smart, now a young woman, was only 14 years old when she was snatched from her bed in the night and held prisoner, victim of a bizarre kidnapping, ten years ago.

Her memoir, “My Story,” is released today.

Smart’s tale of terror chronicling her ability to outwit her captors reveals a remarkable woman whose courage and faith will inspire everyone and offer healing to readers suffering from others’ evil actions.

(S-R archives photo: Elizabeth Smart speaks during the Women Helping Women Fund luncheon, May 22, 2012)

Saint Francis ~ Pope Francis I

“Francis, repair my Church which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”  Words heard by St. Francis of Assisi

October 4 is a day Christians celebrate St. Francis of Assisi, the namesake of Pope Francis I. Who was Francis? And how is Pope Francis working to restore some of the charisms of this 13th century saint?

Today, October 4, Pope Francis visits Assisi where he will meet those helped by the charity Caritas, celebrate Mass, pray at St. Francis’ tomb and speak about his vision for the Church.  

A man of simplicity and humility, Pope Francis I leads the Catholic Church on a journey of caring for the poor, welcoming all people and speaking in a voice of love, acceptance and courage. Finally…again.

Happy Feast Day, Francis!  

(S-R archives photo: Pope Francis I)

Poetry, please

The news is unusually heavy today with pieces of our government closed, immigrants drowning and politicians on their worst behavior. Sometimes it helps to simply escape for a moment. Poetry, please.

Not Here

There's courage involved if you want
to become truth.

There is a broken- open place in a lover.

Where are those qualities of bravery and
sharp compassion in this group? What's the
use of old and frozen thought?

I want a howling hurt. This is not a treasury
where gold is stored; this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change.

Lukewarm won't do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by? Not here.

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

(S-R archives photo)

Happy Birthday, Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was born on this day in 1869. The peacemaker at the forefront of India's freedom from colonialism would be sainted, if we Catholics could claim him.

Yesterday, a friend I hadn't seen in a long while, VJ Pavani, stopped in the newsroom with her former public radio editor from India, Mr. Krishna Rao. He presented me with this Gandhi T-shirt.

In this time of political nonsense (dangerous nonsense) in Washington D.C., let us never forget what real leaders look like.

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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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