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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)

Amanda Knox: the circus continues

The Italian court now accuses Amanda Knox of fighting with her roommate over money. Who writes these plots?

As Americans, we are accustomed to a legal system that relies on evidence. The Italians rely on imagination.  May Amanda find a way to live each day with grace and faith – she must desperately need them.

(S-R archive photo: Amanda Knox during an interview on the “Today” show, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 in New York.)

“Elizabeth Ann:” Looking for birth mom

Her lovely face graced Seattle’s KING5 Sunday news with an urgent message: she is looking for her birth mom. Taya Lee, named “Elizabeth Ann”  by her birth mom, lives in Olympia and is using social media – and the evening news - to find the mom who gave birth to her and then left her in a box on the steps of St. Edward Catholic Church on a January morning in 1981.

Just so happens I worked at that church in 1981 and I remember that day.

The box was left on the church steps, but the church offices are behind the building. The priest, my boss and dear friend Fr. Kieran, never went in the front door of the church. He left the rectory where he lived and went in the side door of the church. He prayed in the church every morning, early before breakfast, and then returned to the rectory – from the side entrance.

He never saw the box with the baby wrapped inside. But a young boy did and he ran to the courthouse, one block away, to get help.

When we learned of the abandoned infant, Fr. Kieran was distraught. “Why didn’t the mother just knock on my door? I could have helped her! She must be scared and that baby – could have died! The mom was counting on me to find the baby soon. And the boy, if he had just knocked, I would have helped!” Maybe the boy did. Maybe Kieran was not in the church when the boy came by.

We could not get any more information about the infant who was in custody of Child Protective Services. But for years – and I mean years - Fr. Kieran wondered about the child, the desperate mother.  He prayed for the “baby and the mother.” And every morning from that day forward, he checked the church steps, just in case.

Everyone wants and deserves to know their heritage, their life story. Taya hopes the desperate woman who gave her life will read this plea and give Taya another great gift: herself.

(S-R archive photo)

The saints go marching in…

Pope Francis I presided over the first joint canonization of two former popes today in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope John XXIII brought the Catholic Church into the present era in the early 1960s with the Vatican II Council. The Mass celebrated once in Latin became celebrated in the language of the participating people - nice to hear the liturgy in one’s own language. Vatican II’s changes took the church out from behind a curtain of clericalism and set it in the modern world. The Catholic Social Teaching of the late 1800s felt more integrated in our lives. My kind of leader.

John Paul II brought his Polish conservative views and behaviors to Peter’s chair. He became pals with President Reagan and looked to tighten the liberals’ understanding and interpretation of the church in the modern world. He became a modern hero for Catholic conservatives. He hunted liberals like Archbishop Hunthausen (my preferred Catholic hero), but backed down when he received an avalanche of protest.

Catholicism offers interesting world views, liturgical practices and ways of being in the world. “Catholic” actually means “universal.” As James Joyce once said of the Catholic Church, “Here comes everybody!”  Now, with two more saints.

(Pope Francis delivers his blessing during a solemn canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, April 27, 2014.)

Seeing spots?

Measles. Those red spots of childhood, thought to be gone, have returned. Most of the 129 cases are in California with 58 cases reported this year. One culprit may involve travel to other countries, like the Philippines where 20,000 cases of the disease have been confirmed. Travelers pick up the disease and bring it home to the Unites States.

Measles is extremely contagious and the disease presents with a fever, cough, a rash and conjunctivitis. Children should be immunized beginning at 12 months and again  sometime when they are 4 to 6 years old. The process should start earlier, if the infant travels internationally.

Military suicides

One day after viewing the movie “Heaven is for Real,” a friend tells me her young adult son has taken his own life. He was a soldier and spent time in Afghanistan. The suicide rate among military personnel now exceeds the rate among the civilian population.

My heart aches for my friend, her family, his friends. And within it all, she maintains her amazingly strong faith. She is confident  heaven is for real, for she had glimpses of heaven in the brief years she shared with her precious son. 

(S-R archive photo)

Is heaven for real?

I saw the movie “Heaven is for Real” the other day. After reading the book, I wondered how the story would translate from pages to screen - never very well for spiritual journeys, is my experience.

But the story has added interest for me: the family is related to our good friends.

“They are just very nice, regular people,” my friend tells me. “Not whacko or likely to create such a story.”

Colton Burpo is a four-year-old child who ends up on the operating table, does not clinically “die,” but comes close. He awakens and throughout the days ahead he casually describes what he saw, historical information he could not possibly have known. Colton offers great descriptions of heaven with a gentle Jesus and giggling angels. He encounters deceased relatives and a sibling he was never told about. He reports to his family heaven is a beautiful place…

Do you think heaven is for real? If so, what are your expectations?

(S-R archive photo)

Happy Children’s Day!

April 23 is National Children’s Day – in Turkey, the only country in the world to dedicate a national holiday to children. The event was named in 1920 to commemorate the first gathering of the Grand National Assembly (the Turkish Parliament). The day honors Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Ataturk dedicated the Republic to children so each year children take part in political events: sitting in Parliament and symbolically leading the country.

Families observe the holiday with visits from children  who come to Turkey from around the world. The visits are sponsored by the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) who brings children, aged eight to 14,  to stay with families and participate in ceremonies and celebrations during their  week-long stay.

With all our longing for world peace, perhaps Children’s Day is one happy step toward understanding and appreciating each other’s cultures. We are less likely to dismiss others when we know their faces and claim them as friends.

Until death do us part

Kenneth and Helen Felumlee eloped as young lovers and continued their mutual love for 70 years. Together, they raised the kids, cooked the meals, worked to pay bills; they held hands through all the anniversaries, holidays, children’s rites of passage - and at breakfast each morning. When Helen died, Kenneth let go, too, 15 hours after she took her last breath.

While it will never appear on a death certificate, some people do die of broken hearts.

(S-R photo: Kenneth and Helen Felumlee, seated, of Nashport, Ohio, pose for a photo with their eight children in December 2012. They were married for 70 years.)

Easter – it’s all about the egg

Happy Easter, the springtime tradition that blends pagan and Christian symbols arrives.

While women may wear fascinators atop their heads and happy toddlers suck on chocolate bunnies, most people recognize the egg as Easter’s central symbol.

As we should.

The egg recalls the rock at the tomb, sealing in Jesus, sealing in death. Orthodox Christians color their eggs red – to symbolize the blood of Good Friday. With the cracking of the egg, we recall the tomb opening, Jesus rising from death to new, transformed life, a life we share. We move out of the desert of hopelessness and despair into the light of resurrection.

The rock rolls away. Joy remains, Happy Easter.

(S-R archive photo)

Hungry at Easter

While grocery store shelves fill up with chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, some people are hungry for breakfast. In Spokane County  15.4 percent of residents are deemed “food insecure.” Families who rely on food banks and other resources may not always need extra help, but at some time, they lack resources to access adequate food.

Perhaps this weekend we could lessen the chocolate treats in our Easter baskets and spend money to donate food to a hungry neighbor – a gesture more closely linked with the resurrection of Jesus than a Peeps marshmallow bunny.  

(S-R archive photo)

Lab-grown body parts

The world of science fiction continues to overlap with reality, offering previously unfathomable options. Science can now grow needed body parts – from the recipient’s own cells – and implant those generated body parts into the person.

A study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina generated fully functional vaginas for young women who suffered from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a genetic condition, where the vagina and uterus are partially or fully unformed. The condition affects 1 in every 5,000 females. Eight years after the implant, the women reported physiological and psychological success.

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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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