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Archive for September 2013

Beware the white vans

There's a guy who drives a white van — he's white, in his 40s, skinny, short hair and black beard  — who has been approaching Spokane County children and trying to lure them into his van.

(Read second story in this briefs column.)

It's terrible and scary, and I don't mean to make light of this, but a white van, really? Hasn't this potential molester gotten the memo about white vans?

They always raise suspicion. Or should. They seem to be popular with child molesters, so much so, that the urban dictionary even has it as a word.

Childmolester van: “A white van with with no windows, in  disguise of a painters work truck.”

White vans have also been associated with terrorists.

So you wonder: Who in this day and age would drive one? Especially if they were up to no good.

Explosion overhead

The explosion six inches above my head sounded like a gunshot; I kept control of the car as I drove 60 mph down the freeway, but moved my right hand over my body checking for bleeding. I know people have been shot and not known it until they saw blood gushing out of themselves. I wanted to find out if I was one of them. No blood, no sensation of dizziness or losing consciousness. My legs felt damp – blood? pee? No, I was sweating with terror. I kept driving. I glanced around looking for a bullet hole in the car since I could hear air moving into the car, but no windows were down. Where was it coming in?

Then, the sounds of broken glass above my head: the sunroof was shattered and small shards of glass were shifting. I heard a few clink, clink, against the top of the car as they flew off onto the freeway. I exited, stopped and called my husband who was driving a few miles ahead of me.

“Get back on the freeway; I’ll get off and wait on the entrance ramp where I am. Keep talking to me,” he advised. I got back on the freeway and drove on, worried that the wind could push open my side of the sunroof, allowing the glass – and bullet, rock, offending projectile – to blow down onto my head. My husband followed me as we drove 30 miles to our home.

I called Washington State Patrol and reported the probable glass left on the freeway, but said I saw no person, rock, projectile, falling debris or alien creatures on the freeway. Just heard the loud gunshot-like explosion, but I could not find a bullet lodged anywhere.

After my husband – a detective by profession – examined the car, he noticed that the jagged edges of the sunroof were not pointing downward, but up, and the roof itself  had no damage.

“I think your sunroof just exploded - up,” he said.


No gunman, no bullets and no explanation.  Searching the Internet, we discovered other drivers have experienced this phenomenon of exploding sunroofs: “I thought I was shot at.”

I am left with two lessons: even as I age, I am still very cool in a crisis and…that sunroof will remain closed in my car for the rest of its (repaired) life.

(S-R archive photo)

Health report card for seniors

The State of Aging and Health in America 2013 just released its annual report today. The collaborative report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists a report card in one section that measures how U.S. residents 65 and older are terms of  “Healthy People 2020” targets.

United States seniors met or exceeded six of the “Healthy People 2020” targets. But fell short on several others, including not getting their flu shots.

U.S. seniors did well on getting more exercise, cutting obesity rates, quitting smoking and taking meds for high blood pressure and for getting mammograms and colorectal screenings.

But they didn't get enough flu protection. The goal of Healthy People 2000 is for 90 percent of folks 65 and older to get flu shots but only 66.9 percent do. Seniors are also short on pneumonia vaccines (68.1 percent of seniors got them, but the goal is 90 percent.)

(Spokesman-Review archives photo)


Sisters of the Holy Names celebrate 125 years

My Sunday story was about the sisters of the Holy Names celebrating 125 years in Spokane. As a Marycliff High School girl, I was taught by the Franciscan Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration, but Marycliff and Holy Names girls knew each other well, usually because we dated Gonzaga Prep boys who knew each other, but also because we competed against each other in debate.

I came to know the Holy Names sisters better in my adulthood. They are smart, resilient women, highly educated.

They are aging. In Spokane, there are 60 Holy Names sisters left, ranging in age from 70 to 100. They will soon move from their landmark convent near SFCC to Harbor Crest retirement community.

They have given Spokane the gift of music and art. They deserve much gratitude and thanks as their ministry evolves with them.

(Photo of Holy Names Academy musicians, circa 1900; photo courtest of the Holy Names sisters)

Yellowstone’s mature workers and volunteers

We spent two days in Yellowstone Park recently, and many of the park rangers and volunteers looked boomer age and older. Lots of silver hair.

I watched the three pictured here work the desk in the busy visitor center at Old Faithful. They graciously answered the same questions over and over again, communicated patiently with tourists who spoke little English and the woman in the center of this picture walked out to Old Faithful during a huge downpour and gave a talk without flinching at the rain.

And they posed for this photo without making a big fuss. My husband took the shot, and then they were back to work answering the same questions over and over again as if it was the first time they heard it, such as “When will Old Faithful erupt next?” Signs were everywhere announcing the next window of time when it may erupt, but they cheerfully answered the question anyway.

(Photo by Tony Wadden)

Geezer geyser gazers

I keep a list in my head of all the things I'll do in my older years, if I feel lonely, sad, neglected.

After a recent — and first — trip to Yellowstone Park, I've added a new one. I will become a “geezer geyser gazer.”

We were told during a tour that the park's 500 geysers have fans. Some of these fans sit and watch the geysers for hours, days and weeks and record what they see.

One group even has a website.

The geysers provide much to think about. They are beautiful. Most are unpredictable. Some lay dormant for years and then erupt when no one's watching.

Old Faithful is the one to rely on. But we noticed the geyser gazers seemed to congregate around the lesser known geysers, holding vigil.

See you there in 20 years!

(Old Faithful photo by Tony Wadden)

How smart are you?

As children, we took assessment tests that measured our brain power. As college students we relied on our GPA to tell us how well we were doing. Landing a job with a handsome salary meant we had arrived. But where?

 What about the skills to simply get along in the world with other people, situations, challenges?

Emotional Intelligence can perhaps be the strongest indicator of how “successful” one will be navigating through life. Can it be taught?

Take time to read the story

(S-R archives photo; May 2012. Third-graders march into their classrooms for the Fairy Tale Ball at Sunrise Elementary.)

Pope Francis says…

When I was eight years old my friend Patty asked me to attend her Lutheran church with her. My mom wouldn’t let me saying, “Catholics are not allowed to attend non-Catholic churches.”

And now Pope Francis I writes about atheists, saying “open dialogue free of prejudices” between Christians and atheists is “necessary and precious.” My, how the Church has changed.

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience,” he added. “To listen and to obey to (one’s conscience) means to decide oneself in relation to what’s perceived as good and evil. And this decision is fundamental to determining the good or evil of our actions.”

I am not certain if atheists care what a pontiff proclaims about them, but I do. A pope’s  willingness to converse with, understand and accept atheists offers an inclusivity that follows Jesus’ mandate to “love one another as I have loved you.”

(S-R archive photo)

Man’s – and child’s – best friend

We love our dogs and they love us – and they are willing to protect us in dangerous situations. And that is exactly what one dog did. Remarkably, the adults listened to the dog when it “warned” them of an abusive babysitter they had hired to care for their baby. 

The dog’s unsettling reaction to the woman who cared for their child alarmed the parents so they put an iPhone within audio recording distance and listened to the woman. What they heard was shocking: screaming and cursing at the child to shut up and then slapping sounds.

The parents submitted the recording to the police; the child deemed in good physical condition after a visit to the hospital. (Read story)

(S-R archive photo)

Writing the truth

After a childhood of abuse, Katherine Reddick was not going to write a dishonest obituary about the mother who harmed her and her siblings. So, when her mother - whom Katherine had not seen in over 30 years – died, Katherine told the truth.

Katherine’s words, announcing the torture and abuse suffered by her and her siblings, have “gone viral,” but her hope in writing the truth is for people everywhere to pay attention to child abuse in their midst and work to eradicate it from our lives. 

(S-R archive photo)

Summer in the Pacific Northwest

As we look forward to cozy sweaters and apple cider, take a few minutes to enjoy these summer images of earth, wind, water and fire from the Seattle side of Washington state.

(S-R archives photo: The Columbia River flows past Astoria, Ore., under the bridge connecting Oregon and Washington. )

Never too late…

…to do the right thing.

A Connecticut slave, known as “Mr. Fortune,” died in 1798, after a life of known hardship. His owner, a physician, had Mr. Fortune’s bones boiled in order to study anatomy. The skeleton was given to a Waterbury museum by one of the physician’s descendants in 1933. They were displayed from the 1940s until 1970.

Finally, Mr. Fortune will be appropriately memorialized and buried. His remains will lie in state in Hartford; police will escort the remains to Waterbury where Rev Amy D. Welin of St. John’s Episcopal Church will preside over the funeral.

“Fortune will be buried near contemporaries who never would have spoken to him or viewed him as human,” said Mullins, president of the southern Connecticut chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians. He noted the use and display of his bones was done without his consent.

May Mr. Fortune finally rest in peace.

(S-R archive photo)

We remember

While we are pacing politically over Syria, we recall the terror on our own soil 12 years ago. Threats, evil and grief linger. On this anniversary, we do well to pause, to hold in our hearts the struggle and pain still felt among survivors and heroes of that terrible day. 

In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, The Port of Seattle Police Department sold hats to raise money for the Port Authority Police Department Benevolent Fund in New York/New Jersey. That department lost 37 officers in the attacks.  Each hat had the name of one officer who died Sept. 11. At the time, my husband was part of the POSPD canine unit; he bought a hat with the name Sirius on it. Sirius was the PAPD police dog killed at the World Trade Center. My husband also bought a hat for me with the name Paul Jurgens on it. Paul's children are now grown - young adults I have never met, but I wear a hat with their father's name on it. The hat has become a sacred object of remembrance of one man's heroic gesture:  saving others' lives as he sacrificed his own.

This week, we remember those who died…and their loved ones who remain. May somehow our world find its way to peace.

(S-R archive photo: A flag placed in a name at the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero.)

Changing yourself rather than others

In my Monday Boomer U story, I profiled two women who faced serious situations they could not change and decided instead to change themselves. Now they're helping others do the same.

Susie Leonard Weller survived stage 3 colon cancer but uses a permanent colostomy; Peggy Capes faced down alcoholism and debt issues.

When boomers face a divorce, loss of job, death of a loved one or a health issue or other events that make them feel as if their life is falling apart, and nothing they've done before to overcome things seems to work, they still have choices, the women believe.

You can drink, drug, overeat, freeze, withdraw, blame others, blame God.

Or you can decide to take a look at the events that cannot be changed and change yourself and your attitude. Much easier said than done.

These women did it.

(Photo courtesy of Susie Leonard Weller who rides a camel in Australia, post cancer treatment)


They courted at the fair –a first date between neighborly teens in 1941. Now,  Earl and Eva Shadle will once again return to the Puyallup Fair as they have over the seven decades of their married life.

The lovers, who once walked to school together, will scoot and wheel around the Puyallup Fair, remembering the years of scones, music, quilt shows, concerts and married love that carried them to this extraordinary anniversary – 70 years of marriage.

(S-R archive photo)

Chocolate milk after exercise?


I knew it was good for me!

Chocolate milk feels like a great go-to drink in any situation or with any mood or with any activity. Now science says it is a great post-workout beverage choice, too.

(S-R archive photo)

The faces of Som

Facebook has its downsides, for sure, but one thing it does well is connect communities that grieve.

Som Jordan, freelance music critic with a long history at The Spokesman-Review, died yesterday. See story.

On Facebook, people who knew Som from all the worlds he traveled in posted photos of him from weeks, months and years ago. I know when his family has time or energy to go through the posts, they will appreciate these photos and kind words about Som.

He touched thousands of lives. Facebook offered just a glimpse into all those he knew. And those who loved his creative spirit. Blessings, Som.

(S-R archive photo)

Landlines: On life support?

Fresh from the U.S. Census today:

The percentage of households with a microwave climbed from 82 percent in 1992 to 97 percent in 2011. Similarly, the percentage with a computer jumped from 21 percent to 78 percent over the period. Landline phones followed the opposite trend; the share of households with landlines fell from 96 percent in 1998 to 71 percent in 2011.

(S-R archive photo of switchboard operators)

The world by Mitchell Raymond

At my desk, taped to a wall I glance at between writing and reporting tasks, I now have hanging this drawing by Mitchell Raymond. In my Monday Boomer U story about the drawing, I explained:

In November, Mitchell showed his “Wampa” – Mike Davey – a drawing he’d made of all the places he hoped to visit in his life. He’d only been to one: the Space Needle in Seattle.

Mitchell, already a gifted artist at age 14, drowned this summer. This drawing was given out at his memorial service.

I have traveled to two-thirds of the places depicted here. But like Mitchell, I'd only been to the Space Needle in Seattle by the time I was 14. All my travel came later in my 20s and beyond.

I love this drawing. It connects me to a boy I never met and to the power of dreams and the imagination.

Thank you, Mitchell, for creating it.

(Art by Mitchell Raymond — June 9, 1999-July6, 2013.)


Diana Nyad arrived at her destination: a dream fulfilled. She is the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. Her remarks upon arrival: never give up…you are never too old to chase your dreams…and no such thing as a solitary sport - her team assisted with this amazing feat. She was quickly escorted to an aid car for transport to a local hospital to have her health assessed. Her spirits? just fine, thank you.

(S-R archives photo:  U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad, bottom, began her swim to Florida from Havana, Cuba, on Saturday.)

A retiree’s labor day

Thanks to my former colleague, Doug Floyd, for taking up his pen again and writing our main Labor Day story today in the Boomer U section. One of my favorite lines: “I loved my job, and I miss the friends and the engagement with events that was part of my life for 42 years. I follow the newspaper as a reader now, and in an age of shrinking newsrooms, it’s good to know my stepping aside helped make room for some other journalist to have the same opportunities. I can’t say I never miss the job, but there’s a reason they call it a job.” And thanks to S-R photog Dan Pelle for his great photos of Dan with his grandkids. Doug should be happy the hot tub picture only ran small on the front page today!

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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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