Advertise Here


Archive for August 2014

Retired and restless?

With 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, the question emerges: “What are all those people doing now?”

Many boomers are selling their homes, shedding possessions and hitting the road – or check-in gate. Last year 360,000 Americans received their Social Security benefits at foreign addresses. Seems travel and travel and travel is a retirement activity.

With limited funds, seniors are having  great times – far away from home. Instead of sleeping at the Ritz-Carlton, seniors are snoozing at short-term vacation rentals or even couch surfing; yes, there is a couch-surfing website for those over 50.

Decades ago many boomers hitched rides across Europe with only a backpack and their youthful fitness; even at 60 or 70-something, it is not too late to see the world. Just don’t leave home without your AARP identification.

(S-R archive photo)

School blues?

When the first day of school started each September my mom put out the American flag. She was delighted, okay, ecstatic, watching her four daughters return to class; she welcomed routine.

But no one ever wondered about the family dog’s response. Seems our canine creatures may suffer separation anxiety when children leave for the school bus. If your puppy barks, howls - or worse - destroys furniture, shoes, toys, he may just be anxious and lonely.

Tips to help: keep departure time happy with treats or toys; create a comfy place of repose for your dog; start the new routine with a few practice days. If the house continues to receive the wrath of Fido, consult a veterinarian.

Our dogs give us unconditional love and acceptance and we reward them with our attention. No wonder they react when we withdraw and head for the classroom. Happy September.

(S-R archive photo) 

Diane Sawyer

Last night Diane Sawyer, anchor for ABC World News, ended her five-year stint. She says she looks forward to the future of possibilities. Sawyer, 68, is not retiring; instead she is moving her office down the hall and upstairs where she will work on investigative projects for ABC.

The object lesson?  Our lives are filled with possibilities – never too late to pursue.

(S-R archive photo: Diane Sawyer)


When cops shoot

With a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, the last few weeks have brought great conversation, protests and violence. The attention on police shootings has been from the perspective of citizens, not police officials.

Writer Sean Robinson of the Tacoma News Tribune examines the history of police shootings in Pierce County (Tacoma area) and details the process law enforcement must implement following an officer-involved shooting. While citizens often believe eye witness accounts,  those accounts are not always accurate.  Instead, science can provide accurate evidence regarding a use-of-force event.  

Cancer - again

The doctor winced as she looked at me and said, “You don’t have many wrinkles.”

“And that is bad?” I asked.

“Well, not bad, but wrinkles make it easier to hide the incision.”

It started as a little red dot on my face that would not go away. I asked an esthetician to look at it. “If it doesn’t resolve in two weeks, get an appointment with a dermatologist,” she said.

I did. And learned the little red dot on my face is skin cancer. The pathology report said basal cell carcinoma, as suspected, and surprise! Some squamous cell cancer is here, too. The squamous cell cancer had “roots” and can metastasize.

Now, 11 days after the cancer was totally removed - “You caught it early,” the doc said - the earthworm-looking lumpy line on my face is no longer bright red, the dissolvable stitches are dissolving and my hysteria has (almost) subsided.

Ten years ago I had breast cancer; I was not looking for another version of this insidious affliction. But even as a great indoors person, I was vulnerable.

“We all ran around in the sun as children and sunscreen did not become perfected until about 15 years ago. And we live where there is a high rate of skin cancer,” my dermatologist said.

Yes, in the dreary, rainy, cloudy Pacific Northwest. Our temperate climate invites us to wear shorts all year and who would think to apply sunscreen when walking in 50-degree cloudy weather?  Yes, harmful rays get through the fog.

My doc told me genetics factor in. Hmmm. My dad had exactly the same skin cancer in exactly the same spot on his face.

So learn the risks and take precautions. The world offers enough trouble without worshipping it on the beach. 

(S-R photo: City Beach in Coeur d’Alene )

August: A time of thin lines

The last few weeks have plagued us with thin lines: the line for Robin Williams between hope and despair. He fell across that line into despair and left us.

We don’t know yet what lines were crossed in Ferguson, Missouri, where a police officer shot and killed another person. We have crossed the line from known facts to speculation to conclusion to violence. We wait for the lines of evidence to be made clear, for due process to be afforded. For now, confusion has crossed the line of civility into chaos.

Riot police and soldiers in Liberia, under orders, used scrap wood and barbed wire to seal off 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum in an attempt to contain the Ebola outbreak. One 15-year-old boy was injured as he tried to cross the line of barbed wire.

August angst: a time when life hangs in the balance with thin lines that contain, taunt and sometimes break.

(S-R photo: Attorney General Eric Holder shakes hands with Bri Ehsan, 25, right, following his meeting with students at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley in Ferguson, Mo.)


Boomer graduation? never too late

When Sandra Lantz was four months away from her 1963 high school graduation, she was also six-months pregnant. The Bothell High School principal and vice principal quietly took her aside and told her she must leave school – and not graduate. That day she left through a back door and walked five miles to her home.

That fall Sandra attended technical school to earn her remaining two credits, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, worked as a social worker; she wrote a book; she also married and had more children.

Over the weekend, Sandra officially graduated from Bothell High School. After lawyers and school officials reviewed the needed process and documents, Sandra was able to become an official graduate of the BHS Class of 1963.

Her commencement comment? “Now I belong.”

Anne Lamott speaks

Anne Lamott writes about faith, recovery from addiction, and the profound presence of God in the ordinariness of life. She is not pious or pretentious – she has lived through too much pain and suffering for that nonsense.

Robin Williams was her neighbor when she was growing up in the Bay area. Anne writes of his life, mental health and our common search for meaning in the raw pain of life.  

(S-R archive photo: Anne Lamott)

Beds for mental health patients

With Robin Williams’ death this week, Americans – for the moment anyway – seek a greater understanding of mental health and the need for appropriate care for that patient population.

On August 27 Washington state hospitals will no longer serve as boarding facilities for people needing mental health care. The Washington State Supreme Court has declared it so.

Gov. Inslee announced 50 beds - split among Eastern State Hospital, private hospitals in Kirkland and Tukwila and community boarding homes - will be added in the next two weeks for those needing mental health care. The need is profoundly greater, but 50 beds is a beginning.

Next, we need to mandate that jails – like hospitals – are grossly inappropriate settings for mentally ill people. They languish in jails without care or access to health assessments, medication or time with loved ones, waiting months for an available bed. To place psychiatric patients in jail is like sending a cancer patient to a Greyhound Bus station waiting room. Totally absurd.

(S-R archive photo: Sunlight filters through the clouds, illuminating the Apurimac river in Pichari, Peru. )

Just hit “Return”

My son was reading a book a few years ago and paused to ask me, “Mom, what does a typewriter look like?” I went to the storage area above the garage and hauled out my extremely heavy electric typewriter. I could never let it go.

“This is what a typewriter looks like!” I said as I extracted it from its case. Decades later, it still smells like graduate school to me.  

Bob Montgomery, 92, repairs typewriters. Really.  He works every weekday, taking the bus to his downtown Bremerton, Wash. office. The drawers and plastic boxes in his office house little tiny parts that only Bob knows how and where to install, often on IBM Selectric machines from the 1961-1986 era.

Montgomery was drafted during World War II and trained as an infantryman.  But once his typewriter repair skills were known, that became his duty.

Now Montgomery serves nostalgic writers and others who abhor computers;  and he may soon welcome an S-R blogger at his office door, dragging her ancient writing machine behind her.

(S-R archive photo: In this Oct. 5, 1960 AP file photo, Jacqueline Kennedy poses at her typewriter where she writes her weekly “Candidate's Wife” column in her Georgetown home in Washington.)


Robin Williams ~ RIP

He was outrageously hilarious – and quietly kind. Robin Williams, 63, was found dead on Monday around noon at his Marin County home, north of San Francisco. The cause of death is apparently suicide.

He won an Oscar for “Good Will Hunting;” he played a cross-dresser – trying to win back his children – in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” He arrived from a different planet in “Mork ‘n Mindy.” He entertained troops in “Good Morning, Viet Nam.”

His role in real life was one of father, husband, friend and dedicated American. He entertained troops on tour and then left the stage to find the soldiers who could not attend the big show – the cooks in the mess hall, those standing guard, those caring for wounded.

While his wit rivaled lightning speed, his demons could not be held back by wit or willpower. Williams suffered with depression and addiction. He once told Diane Sawyer nothing causes those urgings to “use.” It is just a little voice that suggests one drink, one use, is okay.

When a friend takes his/her own life, we often ask how we  missed the signs. But mental illness, such as depression, is a demon that dresses up well, an actor unto itself. Easy to miss its presence.

Our grief cannot will Robin Williams back among us. But we can seek greater understanding of mental illness, addiction, and remember the man who brought us laughter in a life filled, especially today, with sadness and pain.

Super Moon #2

The second night of magnificent moonshine appeared last night. In case you missed the sky – take a look

(S-R photo: The July 12, 2014, full moon over Spokane was a “super moon.”)

From Africa to America: Ebola

When a disaster or disease outbreak occurs on the other side of the world, we often give the event a passing nod and perhaps a sigh of sadness. But when the event influences our own lives – we take notice.

America is finally taking notice of the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa now that two American aid workers have been infected with the disease – and flown home for treatment.

In one week, Liberia has seen 173 new cases and 93 deaths from Ebola. The outbreak reached Liberia in March, but its government did not declare a full state of emergency until Wednesday. Early on, the government limited journalists’ coverage of the epidemic – allowing denial and fear to contribute to – not address - the problem.

With the Ebola outbreak tantamount to war, the Peace Corps is leaving Liberia, airlines are limiting access. And on the other side of the world, we can only wait.

(S-R photo: Nancy Writebol, with children in Liberia. Writebol is one of two Americans working for a missionary group in Liberia who have been diagnosed with Ebola. She is now in the US receiving treatment.)

Cambodian justice ~ at long last

The film “The Killing Fields” tells the story of the Khmer Rouge and the murdering of Cambodian citizens.  More than 1.7 million people died between 1975 and 1979. After decades of delayed justice, a verdict of guilty has been rendered against two of the most senior surviving leaders. The two men were convicted of murder and extermination, among other crimes. They are sentenced to life in prison. Another trial will follow with charges of genocide.

Eight years ago I met a Cambodian woman in a New Orleans hospital where we were receiving cancer treatment.  Her name was Siconda and she spoke very little English. When I asked her husband some questions, he said, “She lived in the trees for two years in Cambodia. She is now very brave against cancer.”  

Today, a slice of justice in Cambodia is offered for Siconda and for all those who suffered at the hands of the madmen.

(S-R photo: The hearing at a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.) 

Called by name

“What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;” 

So says Shakespeare. But what significance is in our name and how does our name influence how we are perceived?

Last week we were traveling and I learned two children’s names (in different families) and wondered who would be more harassed as they grew up.

The first – a lovely girl of six years old – was named Darling. Yes, it is her name. She is adorable, but how will she survive middle school and will her name allow her to be taken seriously?

The other child, a little blond-haired toddler, belonged to young parents. When a stranger asked them about their child – his age, name, they replied, “His name is Rabbit, and he’s about 15 months old.”

Good luck, children. 

(S-R archive photo)

Love is like…

I met with my favorite 20-something young woman the other day. I was eager to hear details – two months ago I received a text from her reading,  “I met someone.”

Every woman knows exactly what those words mean – a someone worth considering, a person who makes her heart beat differently, a person who may be the one forever and ever.

When I asked her if she had ever felt like this before about any man, she said, “Well, I thought I had, but this feeling is…is… is like being really hungry and then the waiter brings you the most amazing food, food you didn’t even know to ask for!”


We can chase what appears to be the perfect “main course,” but does not satisfy. We can listen to others wax poetic about a “dish,” but find it is not to our liking. Somehow, at the right time, the best “food” is offered when one is ready, when you have not ordered it yourself, it just appears before you – and it is not only appealing – it satisfies, nourishes and delights.

Buon appetito, my friend.  May the feast offer great joy. Text me when dessert arrives.

(S-R photo)

Peace Corps volunteers speak

The spirit – and commitment - of volunteering continues to increase among our nation’s young adults. What happens when a young person commits to years of service in a foreign culture? In their own words

How has your life benefited from volunteer service - anywhere?

(S-R archive photo: This December 1963 file photo shows Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver in his Washington office. His daughter, Maria Shriver, is launching a new U.S. volunteer initiative called the Shriver Corps.)

What are the “Dog Days”?

I love the phrase “Dog Days of summer,” often interpreted as the days when it is so hot, the dogs just laze around. But the real answer is in the sky.

When the brightest star Sirius appeared in the constellation Canis Major (large dog), summer was at its peak.  The period was defined as 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the Dog Star) and the sun. The Farmer’s Almanac identifies July 3 through August 11 as Dog Days.

In ancient times, the Romans sacrificed a red dog in April to satisfy the rage of Sirius, believing the star caused the hot, steamy weather.

Thanks to meteorologists, we are enlightened, we let red dogs live – and take sunscreen to the beach instead. Happy Dog Days!

(S-R archive photo: Charles Cowan, far left, stands next to his wife, Iowa King Cowan, and unidentified friends at Liberty Lake on a Sunday in July 1919.)

Get blog updates by email

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

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
Advertise Here