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Archive for January 2014

Guns and children

Friday night ABC airs a year-long look into what children do when they are taught not to touch guns when they find them. How do the children act when their curiosity encounters a firearm? What should parents do to protect their kids?

One in three homes in America has a firearm inside. Every other day a child is killed by a gun. The program – 20/20 – needs to be watched. 

(S-R archive photo)

Dalla Vedova and Dante

As a jury deliberates, Amanda Knox awaits what theater will come from Florence. Her attorney, Carlo Dalla Vedova, cited ancient Florentine writer Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy when commenting about the Italian police who arrested Amanda. Police did not follow procedure and lied to her - betraying the law they were sworn to uphold as well as Amanda’s trust. Dante placed those who betrayed trust in the lower circle of hell.  

If Amanda and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, are again found guilty in the new appellate court, the case will continue on to the Italian Supreme Court.

I am not certain Dante has a level of hell for wrongly convicted American women, but Amanda knows where it is – she lived there for four years.

UPDATE:Jury decides guilty..

(S-R archive photo: Amanda Knox)

“On my honor I will…

…do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times and obey the Girl Scout laws.” That’s how I remember the pledge, anyway.

And I sold Girl Scout cookies – for 50 cents a box. Thin mints, peanut butter, shortbread and I think a fourth selection were the boxes I lugged through my Minnesota neighborhood.

Girl Scout cookie lovers now have many options – and a new one this year: the gluten-free, chocolate chip, shortbread cookie. The treat will be available in 20 test markets.

No matter what they sell me, I always open the door to young people who are seeking to better themselves and the community. It’s part of my on-going pledge to “help other people at all times.”

Buon appetito.

(S-R archive photo: Natalie Harrison, left, and Jasmine Barnett of Troop 2424 hold a promotional poster for the Girl Scouts.)

Guns and more guns

More than 7,000 children are hospitalized or killed by guns each year. Almost daily we hear of shootings at a mall, a college, an elementary school and most often a family’s home.

Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords will testify in Olympia on Tuesday in support of I-594,  asking for universal background checks for gun buyers. Her husband, Mark Kelly, will also testify.

Sensible measures to protect our children as well as each other are needed. Why would anyone refuse to pass a law that promotes common sense when buying and selling guns? Spend one day in an emergency room and talk with the caregivers who see the result of our often careless and cavalier attitudes. Every year: 7,000 children. The madness has to stop. 

(S-R archive photo: Former Rep. Gabby Giffords is helped as she arrives for a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, 2013)

Real women are…real women

Mireille Guiliano has written an interesting book on attitudes toward getting older: “French Women Don’t Get Facelifts.” Author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” Guiliano asserts that our obsession with looking younger does not serve us well.  Our obsession does serve the diet, cosmetic and fashion industries very well, however.

Guiliano claims while gravity works the same in France as in the rest of the world, French women possess the real secret to aging well: attitude. In a recent survey across various cultures, the French were the least concerned about aging and one-third of French respondents believe old age begins after the age of 80. They revere brain power – quoting Rousseau and debating politics of the day.

“Being an adult is being a grown up,” writes Guiliano. “And being grown up means losing some of life’s insecurities, like worrying about gravity.”

Oui, oui, madame.

(S-R archive photo: A laser-cut paper model of the Eiffel Tower, from Artifacture Studios.)

Help for addicted teens

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has released information on available resources to help addicted teens as well as identify those teens at risk for substance abuse.

Teens present with unique circumstances and needs when it comes to treatment and recovery since they tend to use different substances and suffer different consequences from adults who use drugs. With their brains not fully developed until their mid-twenties, teens are more susceptible than adults to addiction when experimenting with drugs.

Teens are less likely to seek help or think that they need it. All the more reason for the adults who love them to stay close and remain informed. 

Thank you ~ for saving me

Life offers profound moments and we wish to express gratitude to those who assist us. Sometimes the moments are simple gestures, but sometimes they are life-changing. For Marsha Kreuzman the moment was life-saving.

Joe Barbella was part of the U.S. 11th Armored Division who liberated Mauthausen (Austria) concentration camp on May 5, 1945, where Marsha Kreuzman was imprisoned. Last fall Marsha read a newspaper story about Joe and his wife’s milestone anniversary. In the story Joe was identified as one of the soldiers who liberated the concentration camp where Marsha was imprisoned.

Marsha and Joe have each spent decades telling the story of WWII and the horrors of the camps to school children.They now have an amazing conclusion to their stories: a sweet reunion and a friendship that brings joy and the satisfaction of offering profound gratitude. (View story)

(S-R archive photo:  May 2, 2013 file picture a visitor looks at a crematory of the former Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen during a press presentation of two new permanent exhibitions at the former camp in Mauthausen, Austria.)

Amanda Knox ~ double jeopardy?

Amanda’s life must seem like an intermittent nightmare. Another round of decisions about her guilt or innocence awaits. Murder charges, again, and slander, too, will be reviewed.

The prosecutor wants to increase time for the slander conviction from three years to six years. Amanda and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, have already served four years in prison when their conviction was overturned by an appeals court in 2011.

A panel of eight jurors and two judges begins deliberations January 30. If convicted again, will the U.S extradite Amanda? One opinion says no, since U.S. law does not try someone twice for the same crime, it is unlikely that the U.S. government would assist in Amanda’s return to Italy.

The legal system in that Renaissance land remains confusing and corrupt, double jeopardy. 

(S-R photo: Raffaele Sollecito, right, talks with his father father Francesco at the Florence court, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013.)

Argo ~ ergo?

In 1980, the United States (CIA) collaborated with Canadian officials to exit six Americans hiding in Iran. The six left the U.S. Embassy before the militant students who took over the building discovered them. The story was depicted in the film Argo.

Kenneth Bae, a Washingtonian, has been held captive by North Korea for 15 months. He is accused of crimes against the state. He was leading a tour group and arrested, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He recently made a public statement - with media present – appealing to the U.S. to help win his release.

If Hollywood can create a cover story and exit six Americans out of Iran in 1980, can we not, ergo (therefore), gather some diplomatic brains together and create a story, an exit strategy, to take to North Korea and bring Kenneth Bae home? 

(S-R photo:American missionary Kenneth Bae speaks to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea)

A day to remember ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

His life was characterized by vision and courage. We remember his legacy as one of non-violence and determination. While his life ended in violence, his legacy of peace continues to inspire generations. He told us, “I have a dream…” and so we continue to honor that dream as we work to make a world of equality, opportunity and hope. His words:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”

Death by firing squad

The shortage of drugs commonly used in executions has caught the attention of lawmakers. Two states – Wyoming and Missouri – are introducing legislation that suggest reviving firing squads as the method of capital punishment for their states.

Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican, introduced legislation that would use a five-person firing squad as the method for execution. (With five people, presumably none of the executioners would know who fired the deadly bullet.)  

Wyoming state Sen. Bruce Burns cites cost as a reason to use firing squads. Utah remains the only state to actually use firing squads. 

Japanese soldier

A Japanese soldier who refused to surrender after WWII has died. Refusing to surrender is not that unusual, but refusing – and hiding in the Philippine jungle – for 29 years is. Hiroo Onada was not the only soldier to stay hidden. The several dozen who did were called “hold-outs.” Onada stole rice and bananas, shot cows to dry and eat the meat. He surrendered in 1974 after his former commander came to the island and reversed his orders to spy on U.S. troops. Onada died in Tokyo at age 91 – a man of curious determination.

Less drink to think?

Yet another study on alcohol and its effects on the brain: heavy drinking among men in mid-life accelerates the rate of memory loss. The journal Neurology reports that men during mid-life who drink more than 2.5 drinks daily may speed their rate of memory loss by nearly six years. Oddly, among women, moderate drinkers fared better in cognition than women who abstained. Stay tuned. Studies on alcohol consumption, like those that assess caffeine’s benefits, seem to continue – and often challenge each other’s findings.

(S-R archive photo)

Check your furniture

A story so sad it must be told – to prevent a similar tragedy. Two children – brother and sister – died inside a hope chest. They could not get out. The chest, manufactured by Lane furniture, could not be opened from the inside.

In 1996, Lane recalled all its chests made between 1912 and 1987. The product now is made with a safety lock and Lane will provide a new lock at no charge to people who have an older model of the hope chest.

Our precious children are vulnerable to slipping from life so easily. As parents, we cannot possibly anticipate every danger. Home needs to be the safest place of all. Check your furniture.

(Photo: The image of the cedar chest is a representation only, not a Lane cedar chest.)

School daze

How do we get young people through school? Seems like the wrong question. How can we make learning authentic, interesting and meaningful? Instead of getting kids through school, we need to look at education and figure out how we teach those who learn differently, whose interests do not include y=mx+b.

In the meantime, a school in Kent, Washington called iGrad is getting students through school in a very efficient process. Find out what credits these students need and put them on a track to finish. Practical.

Hopefully, we can give this population of young people the attention they deserve. While we have changed how we deliver babies, cook food, and shop, we continue to educate as we did 100 years ago. We need to change. Until then, iGrad is graduating students into hopeful futures.

(S-R archive photo)


Golden at the Globes

Always fun to watch the Golden Globe awards. And this year a few golden-age people won awards.

Jon Voight was acknowledged for his supporting role in “Ray Donovan” while Michael Douglas won the award for playing Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra.” Jacqueline Bissett took home the Golden Globe for her work in “Dancing on the Edge.” Bryan Cranston won for his work in Breaking Bad – a series now ended.

The winners, past their prime by Hollywood standards, remind us following our passion in life has no age limit for satisfaction – and sometimes others even take notice.

(Photo: image released by NBC shows hosts Tina Fey, left, and Amy Poehler during the 71st annual Golden Globe Awards.)

Russell Wilson

With all the football hype this weekend, we often forget these idolized men are just that – men. But one of the Seahawks, Russell Wilson, is an exceptional man of generous spirit. Wilson and his wife, Ashton, visit Seattle Children’s Hospital each Tuesday and spend time with the patients and their families. Russell listens and signs autographs and, yes, tosses the football with those little patients.

While all the talk this weekend will be on the statistics and Wilson’s ability to throw the football, scramble and perform under stress, some special fans know that no matter the score at the game’s end, Russell Wilson is a hero with heart.

(S-R archive photo)

What does your gut tell you?

We often ask that question when others are baffled about decisions. And there may be more wisdom and influence living in that gut than we realize.

As a college sophomore, Elaine Hsiao learned in microbiology class one’s gut holds almost twice our brain weight in bacteria. For what purpose? As a graduate student Hsiao learned that these bacteria might actually influence our thoughts, moods and behavior.

Now a research fellow, Hsiao explores how those microbes can affect brain function. Perhaps she is on a path of healing; perhaps one day we treat mental health by simply introducing more microbes into one’s system.

My gut tells me such a discovery would bring peace and wholeness to millions.

(S-R archive photo: a scene from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” 20th Century Fox)

Affordable Health Care and breast cancer

With all the political posturing over new healthcare laws, consumers may be easily confused as to what benefits they receive. The new laws offer good news for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Name calling – a good idea

When I enter my local coffee shop, the barista says, “Good morning, Cathy! What would you like to drink?”  I realize knowing a customer’s name is good business practice - and it works. I like how I feel when someone addresses me by my name.

And so, my resolution this year is to learn the names of more people who sell coffee to me, dry clean my clothes, check out my groceries and offer kindness in business settings.

In a world of “press one for more options,” I opt to personalize my interactions with personal address. Sound good, gentle reader? 

(S-R archive photo: Barista Salina Nickell prepares a coffee drink for a customer.)

A modest proposal

He asked me to marry him 34 years ago today. We were so young, but thought we were quite prepared: mature, responsible and ready. Ha!

He did not arrange for a flash mob or jumbo tron or media presentation. I was not feeling well; he came over and made me soup and then asked me to marry him.

The years have brought such challenges: a groomsman’s suicide the night of his bachelor party, foster parenting his abandoned nephews, my parent’s divorce, his – then my – cancer, a job lay-off. How does anyone prepare for life?

Decades later he still makes me soup as I listen to details of his day; we discuss, debate and decide paint colors and career choices. Catching only glimpses of our younger selves, we watch our faces age, our bodies shift shape and the years proceed.

But today I pause and text him: “So glad you asked!” He soon calls back, “Me, too.”

How did you decide to ask for or answer your future? 

(S-R archive photo)

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Well, if you are in Minnesota today – it is more than cold. Those citizens in my home state are in serious “weather lockdown” as the air hit 56 degrees below zero (windchill factored in). So they must stay inside, close curtains and drapes to help insulate the windows and keep pets indoors, too. And older persons are especially vulnerable to hypothermia. Here are some tips for them from the National Institutes of Health.

  • Make sure your home is warm enough. Set the thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can lead to hypothermia in older people.
  • To stay warm at home, wear long underwear under your clothes, along with socks and slippers. Use a blanket or afghan to keep your legs and shoulders warm and wear a hat or cap indoors.
  • When going outside in the cold, it is important to wear a hat, scarf, and gloves or mittens to prevent loss of body heat through your head and hands. A hat is particularly important because a large portion of body heat can be lost through the head. Wear several layers of warm loose clothing to help trap warm air between the layers.
  • Check with your doctor to see if any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking may increase your risk for hypothermia.

As a Minnesota native, I learned my own weather guidelines as a child:

  • Don’t lick anything – like a post on the playground because your tongue will stick and classmates will remember you for the rest of their lives. I still wonder why the sisters called the fire department when a simple cup of lukewarm water poured on the tongue/post intersection would have released Jimmy’s tongue.
  • If you have to go potty, it is worth the trouble to go indoors and remove all those layers (see above).
  • As a teen, never resort to long kissing sessions in a running car parked in a snowy area. Snow can block the exhaust pipe and cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Basement couches – a better option.

So, if you have family and friends in the polar vortex, call them and check on their well-being. When the fault lines rumble under your house, they will lovingly do the same.

(S-R archive photo: A Crow Wing County snowplow operator clears snow near Merrifield, Minn.)

Screening calls?

Seems even Roman Catholic sisters screen their calls occasionally – or are they otherwise engaged in spiritual reflection, chores, maybe watching Downton Abbey?

I would have some method of caller identification, if I knew Pope Francis was prone to frequent dialing. After all, if the leader of the Catholic Church has time to talk, so would I.

Time for tea and Downton Abbey

The show returns tonight! The long wait is over to see how Lady Mary fares as a new mother – and widow. What will Edith do about that married man pursuing her? And the property, always threatened by circumstance, will it remain with the family?  Downstairs at Downton houses questionable characters as well as loyal servants who bring their own intrigue.

Smart writing on television is rare. Writer Julian Fellowes offers viewers insights into English history with complex characters and their relationships, fun fashion and hanging storylines. Tune in.

Ta-ta for now.

(S-R archive photo)

Phil Everly

We listened to their music as we drove home from school or cleaned our rooms or feigned finishing algebra homework – or kissed our first sweethearts. The Everly Brothers’ smooth voices eased some of our adolescent days with their cool crooning; music that remains imprinted on our hearts.

Phil Everly, 74, one half of the singing duo, has passed away from chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD).

Bye, bye, love. 

Affordable Health Care…for all

With all the media hype over new the health care law and glitches in computers, one voice is rarely heard:the voice of homeless people. The new health care laws provide an expansion of Medicaid allowing potentially 1.2 million homeless people eligible for coverage.

Communities know what they need for success: safe housing and access to health care. As America makes its way through the politics and the whining over Affordable Health Care implementation, we can rejoice that those who are most vulnerable among us may finally have a chance to heal from injury and illness. Outreach workers in a downtrodden area of Los Angeles work every day to offer hope for that healing.

(S-R archive photo: A homeless man pushes a shopping cart full of his belongings across an intersection in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, Friday, March 29, 2013. The area, originally agricultural until the 1870s when railroads first entered Los Angeles, has maintained a transient nature.)

Words that irritate

Do you have phrases or words that irritate you? Well, maybe not, but writers often do.Here are some words and phrases from 2013 that we could eliminate from our lives – and survive just fine.

(S-R archive photo)

2013 personal highlights?

The last year has been interesting and amazing and surprising. As a Catholic, I have my favorite person of the year: Pope Francis I. He was a surprise choice among his colleagues; a man who appears humble, compassionate and kind. My kind of guy. Who inspired you last year and why? 

(S-R archive photo: Confetti flies over New York's Times Square after the clock strikes midnight during the New Year's Eve celebration as seen from the Marriott Marquis hotel Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 in New York.)

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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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