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Archive for May 2014

He’s coming home!

Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is coming home! Bergdahl, from Hailey Idaho, was released today into the presence of the U.S. military; his freedom gained in exchange for five prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Officials reported the sergeant was able to walk on his own upon his release. Once in the helicopter, he held up a paper plate with handwritten letters: “SF?”  The SF asking “Special Forces?”

When the operators answered with “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time,” the freed sergeant wept.

We rejoice in the return of a courageous and persevering young man. May his reunion with those who love him dearly heal his heart, body and spirit.

Welcome home.

(S-R archive photo: A yellow ribbon and a banner honoring captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are seen in Hailey, Idaho, 2013.)


Maya Angelou

With her sultry voice as distinct as her life as her poetry as her courage, Maya Angelou gave voice to her life and to millions of others’ lives. She wrote her way through healing and ascended to a level of profound accomplishment – and humility.

Maya Angelou died on Wednesday at her North Carolina home. She was 86.

Her book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” published in 1969, told her story of abandonment, violence, homelessness and teen motherhood. Any one of these events easily could destroy one’s sense of hope. Somehow Maya Angelou found her soul and voice amid the tragedy. She refused to remain caged.

Few people live with such grace, talent and raw courage. Maya Angelou’s voice will never be silenced. Her legacy inspires us to bear witness to the truth, to tell our stories and transform our world with a powerful weapon: our words.

(S-R archive photo: President Barack Obama kisses author and poet Maya Angelou after awarding her the 2010 Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 15, 2011.)

Keep on walkin’…dancing, swimming – moving!

A recent study indicates that a moderate physical activity program among older adults will keep them walking –without assistance. Seems logical, but it is nice to have science say so.

The study tracked people who followed a regular physical activity – walking, strength training and balancing - program for an average of 2.6 years and found an 18 percent reduction in major mobility disability among the vulnerable population.

Mobility means more than just grabbing a dance partner on a Saturday evening. Mobility means independence.  And that means everything.

(S-R archive photo: Rob Womeldorff as he walked Sasha, his German shepherd, along the Centennial Trail in Coeur d’Alene )

Memorial Day ~ we honor and remember

Today we remember and honor the men and women who served our country through their military commitment. We continue to cherish freedom so many other countries do not enjoy. We are a grateful nation.

(S-R archive photo: Mark and Terri Stiltz pose for a photo on their deck on March 27, with the flag they fly to honor their son Matt Stiltz, who died Nov. 12, 2012, in Afghanistan.)

Sunday morning: Cardinal virtue - or not?

Cardinal Timothy Dolan – Archbishop of New York - has been the media darling for the last few years. He lives on Madison Avenue in a residence adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral - not unusual for a priest to live next door to work. Still, as a shepherd of the people, he is seldom in the field.

When Catholicism – with its scandals or triumphs – hits the news, reporters seek out Dolan. His wit, quick remarks and conservative world view make headlines. So when the men in red beanies gathered at the Vatican last year to elect a new pope, Dolan appeared with feigned modesty before the cameras. “Oh, me, pope?” he giggled.

With Pope Francis, the spotlight shifts from pageantry and pomp to service and humility. Francis looks to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as his closest American advisor. O’Malley lives a life of service, his theological views espouse inclusivity. 

Our world feels crazier each day: premeditated murders, children killing parents, a planet polluted with our own misdeeds. Pope Francis leads with humility so powerful the world listens. Catholics need front-line leaders who care for others, not leaders who flit about like clerical royals. Cardinal Dolan’s era may be over.

(S-R archive photo: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, talks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Pontifical North American College, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. )

The public’s right to “no”

Jackie Kennedy wrote letters to a priest years ago and now the letters may be auctioned off to a highest bidder? Is nothing sacred? Apparently not.

Just like attorney-client privilege, a priest has the moral responsibility not to divulge the conversations a person has with him. If a person seeks advice or confesses misdeeds or simply confides in him - no matter if the conversation happens under the known “Seal of Confession” or not - the words are sacred and private.

Making money from Jackie Kennedy’s personal communication with a priest suggests a profound lack of character on the part of the sellers as well as the priest who saved the letters.

Sometimes the right to know means “no!” to writings.

(S-R archive photo: In this Oct. 5, 1960 AP file photo, Jacqueline Kennedy poses at her typewriter.)

Wine, chocolate and longevity?

Not so fast.  For the last few decades we believed consuming red wine and chocolate (both containing resveratrol) helped with heart health, decreased cancer and increased our longevity. Seems not.

A team from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) studied nearly 800 people living in Italy’s Chianti Region. Among the 783 volunteers, no significant differences in heart disease, cancer, or longevity was documented between those people who consumed a diet high in resveratrol and those who consumed very little. The first study was conducted for nearly 16 years.

The good news: a little red wine and a piece of dark chocolate (from Perugia, Italy, perhaps?), did not harm a soul. Mangia bene!

(S-R archive photo: Workers sort red wine grapes at Reininger Winery in the Walla Walla Valley during the 2013 harvest.)

Bound together in style

Thatcher Wine creates stylish libraries. He thinks readers should enjoy looking at books as much as reading them and so he creates and re-creates library shelves by decorating each spine of a book to create an expanded image. From his workshop in Boulder, Colorado, Wine designs sophisticated visual imagery.                                     

Each book, individually covered, and placed next to another and another, becomes part of a pastoral scene – or an expansive American flag or a scenic view of Paris.

Wine’s work is pricey: as much as $750/foot. For booklover$, perhaps a worthy investment.

Thank you, Barbara!

Barbara Walters took leave today from her decades-long career in journalism. Hillary Clinton, Michael Douglas and Oprah Winfrey, surprise guests on The View, reminisced with her and celebrated her remarkable career.

The true legacy of Walters’ career walked in as their names were announced – a parade of accomplished women whose faces have graced or still grace broadcast journalism. Each woman embraced Walters and thanked her for enduring the nonsense (Harry Reasoner made no secret of his disdain, having to share the evening anchor spotlight with her), thanked her for blazing a trail through all that testosterone and for inspiring them to use their gifts, pursue their dreams.

Almost seems silly these days to discuss “the first woman to…” since so few of those titles remain open. And for that reality, we thank many women. Today, especially, we thank Barbara Walters.

(S-R archive photo: Barbara Walters)

What would you do?

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a woman in Sudan, is sentenced to death because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith – and claim Islam as her faith. Abandoning or criticizing Islam is punishable by death.

Ibrahim is pregnant and has a 20-month-old son. She was given three days to change her mind and renounce her Christian beliefs. She did not, so she remains locked up – with her son. Her attorney is appealing the sentence.

What would you do?

(S-R archive photo: Displaced people who fled the fighting between government and rebel forces in Bor, prepare to sleep in the open at night in the town of Awerial, South Sudan Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014.)

S-L-O-W down

The pace of our lies has become, well, almost comical. Except that it is killing us.

Arianna Huffington knows this experience well. Her Huffington Post website brought her great success – and exhaustion.

She writes about the cost of multitasking, based on extensive research, in her new book titled “Thrive.” She defines success as three pillars of well-being, wisdom and wonder.

“Complex cognitive processing takes time,” the research stated, “and, without some reasonable time for that processing, creativity is almost impossible.”

Imagine that.

(S-R archive photo)

A pint of A positive, please

Soon, Boomers may be asking for blood from their youngsters to ease their own suffering and the consequences of aging. Recent studies in mice show that blood from young mice injected into their elders has improved the muscles and brain of the recipient.

As expected, blood from the older mouse shared with the younger one offered no benefit – and actually slowed their performance and caused premature aging in the young rodent.

If these findings can be applied to humans with equal success – a Boomer’s Christmas wish list may read quite differently in years ahead: “Instead of 18K jewelry, just a pint or two from Jack  Jr.(A positive), please.”

Motherless Mother’s Day

While we celebrate our motherhood or spend time with our own mom, we can easily overlook the anguishing silence in others’ lives. I am reminded of friends whose mothers are gone:  this day stirs memories of joy and loss, of grief and new traditions.

Hope Edelman wrote “Motherless Daughters,” a response to her own mom’s death from breast cancer. Hope was 17 years old. Her mom, 42.

For those children – no matter their age - whose moms are absent today, we can acknowledge the woman gone, speak her name, tell stories about her life, and offer space in our hearts for her children.

Today, I remember Mary Jane, a woman who adored her children,  a woman of grace, brains, beauty and outrageous humor.  She shared these gifts with those who loved her. Years after her death, Mary Jane's greatest gifts remain: Annie, Laura and Jeff. XO

(S-R archive photo)

Best ever Mom’s Day words

Anna Quindlen wrote the following column years ago about motherhood describing wistful moments and time's message of live now- these babies grow up. As parents we think we mold and shape our kids, and we do - a bit.  Mostly, our children teach us about ourselves as they become who God intended: gifts for the world. After 20 years of motherhood, I remain profoundly grateful for each day I share with a remarkable human being - who happens to be my son.

On Being A Mom

By Anna Quindlen

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.

Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.

What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations —what they taught me was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all.

Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother at 2. When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.

I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language - mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.

That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.

(S-R archive photo: Joyce Barton, left, with her first grandchild, 1-year-old Lucia Barton in 2011)


September 11 remains

On September 11, 2001, after the planes hit the twin towers, 2,753 persons were reported missing – and today 41 percent of those missing persons have not been identified.

The unidentified remains – 7,930 body parts -  have been at the medical examiner’s office on Manhattan’s Eastside; they soon will be transferred to the lower level of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Some families are furious, believing that the “basement” location is unfitting. They want the remains above ground, nearby in the memorial plaza. Other families believe the entombed location is appropriate. The medical examiner’s office will oversee the repository. Hopefully, someday our technology will provide identification of the remains.

No matter where the unidentified remains are placed, a nation’s grief continues, as families long for answers, solace, peace.

(S-R archive photo: The long-awaited museum dedicated to the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks will open to the public at the World Trade Center site on May 21, officials announced Monday, March 24, 2014.)




Whose sin?

The extremist group claims Western education is a “sin,” so they stormed the school barracks of the young girls and took them hostage on April 15. The world has slowly expressed outrage, but the girls remain missing.

We have sent in high-tech air and water technology to search for the missing plane in the Indian Ocean, but have not –as far as we know – sent in forces to rescue these brave girls destined for certain slavery. Human trafficking.

The slogan “bring back our girls” is twittered and hash tagged around the world. To whom is the request sent? The world with its luncheons and slogans and billboards  illuminating the problem of  human trafficking, must rise up and demand: “Go get our girls!” Those girls, the ones who braved known violence in their country, risked their lives for an education.  They are the future of their country, of their families.

Educating women is not a sin, the world refusing to relentlessly search for them is.

(S-R photo: A woman attends a demonstration in Lagos, Nigeria, on Monday calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue the nearly 300 girls kidnapped)

Simplicity ~ perspective

Time to think about vacations - and why they are important.

We seek simplicity in our daily lives, but vacations may be the best experience of that desired simplicity.  We leave behind our routine, our non-portable gadgets and the trappings we worked so hard to purchase.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I flew to Florida to be with him and accompany him to his doctor appointments. He told me he had to wait three weeks because the  physician was on vacation.

When we did meet, I asked the doc, “Where does a Floridian go on vacation? And why would you leave this paradise?”

He laughed and explained: “It is paradise to you. I went to Colorado to ski – my paradise.”

Vacation is all about simplicity and perspective. Time to start packing.

(S-R archive photo)

$6 for M&Ms?!

Say good-bye to that in-room temptation – ludicrously expensive temptation: the hotel minibar. Hotels are phasing them out or reducing the number of treats to make room for your own.

Sales from those little wallet traps dropped 28 percent in five years. Lots of folks walk to nearby convenience stores for snacks or bring their own. Many hotels have bars for those seeking booze – and company.

Maybe airline $nack pack$ will be next.

(S-R archive photo)

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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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