This morning in church Pastor David mentioned before the closing prayer that we need to pray for the families of Santa Fe, Texas, where ten students/staff were shot and killed this past week. He mentioned that there didn’t seem to be as much media coverage of this tragedy.  He asked if we are losing our outrage.

There are many ways to respond to this question:  If so much notice is given to this deranged teen, do we encourage copycats who are seeking attention?  Or did the royal wedding supersede coverage?  (I hope that wasn’t the case.)  Are we feeling hopeless and no longer know how to react or how to begin to make a change?

I felt my strongest outrage over 37 years ago when my neighbor committed suicide with her husband’s gun.  That event may have triggered the strongest emotions of my lifetime.

Since then I continue to feel pure disgust with our American gun culture.  I don’t have much hope for changing gun regulations.  But every month of April I think of my neighbor and the young children she left behind on a beautiful spring day.  Her name was Jean.

This past spring I did something I have never done before:  I wrote to a stranger, sharing just a little of my experience with gun violence, but primarily it was a letter expressing my empathy for his loss.

I was visiting San Antonio, standing in a short line to visit The Alamo.  I stood and read through my NPR app, focusing on an interview of Phil Schentrup.   I was so touched by his words that a few days later I wrote to him. Today returning from church, I stopped to pick up yesterday’s mail and there was a card from Phil.

Phil and his wife Alice lost their beautiful child Carmen in the Parkland school massacre.   Phil’s card, with a collage of pictures of Carmen, carried a one-sentence note in response to my letter.  Phil’s interview is on-line, the NPR site.  There I have become acquainted with Carmen.  I now know a bit about her stellar accomplishments as a student and as a child, loved by her siblings, mom and dad.

Driving home from the mailbox, I thought of that name.  Carmen Schentrup.  I don’t want to forget it.  I thought to myself, maybe that’s one small thing that we can do.  We can write a note to a family that is hurting from the loss created by gun violence.  And we can remember the name of the child who will never be forgotten, who will always be missed and ached for.

Sometimes I think that my rage has gone, but tonight it feels like an undercurrent that is forever running in my veins. I think of the people I care for who own guns, and I fear for their children and grandchildren.  I can’t help it.  It isn’t a judgment of them but a response to my long-ago experience.  And I truly never know what to do with that emotion. Often I just want to scream.

I try to tamp down my emotions as I know they produce/change nothing.  But in answer to David, no, not all of us have lost our rage.  But for now, I want to look at the pictures of Carmen and remember her always.  If we all do that in some small way, if we can put those names out there instead of thinking of nameless and faceless numbers, maybe we can make a change.

I don’t have much hope for our gun-crazed mentality, but I remember Jean and in honor of her and Carmen I want to have hope for our children’s future. I owe it to them to never forget and to never give up no matter how discouraged I may feel.  I owe it to them to rage forever, as long as I have a voice and a memory of that horrible April day in 1981 and a memory of Carmen, all of her wonderful days before Valentine’s Day 2018.





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In Heavy Times, A Moment Of Levity


“Scan, Bag, Go.”  That’s the latest Kroger/King Soopers approach to shopping.  No, we didn’t ask for it, but it’s here.  And today it was tempting.

I walked in and there was a display of scanners, looking pretty cool, all lined up, waiting to be a part of my shopping experience.  A new toy.

The five-dollar bonus enticed me so I thought, why not.  I’m pretty tech-savvy.

I was given less than a minute of instruction and then went for the grapes.  I had to scan the little tag below the display, but then I was told that was just the beginning.  I would need to go to the scale and weigh them and then scan again.  Of course, I got some help from a millennial.  I told him that I know they are doing this so that they don’t have to hire more people. He was momentarily speechless but recovered, saying that may be true at some stores, but at this store, they can’t find enough people to work.  Is that perhaps because there is no affordable housing in our county.  I know, that’s not his problem.

So I managed to learn how to scan produce.  The price of Cara oranges was a shock.  If I had done the traditional check-out I wouldn’t have realized that Bob is eating over a dollar’s worth of oranges every morning.  But after I had scanned five oranges, I wouldn’t have known how to remove them.

Next was the deli counter. While the ham and cheese were being sliced by an efficient young woman, not a robot, I picked up a couple of other items from adjacent aisles.  When I was choosing my tea, I did have second thoughts.  To choose the $6.99 box or the $2.99 box:  that was the question.  In the past the more expensive, exclusive blend might not have bothered me, but now that larger number was going to pop up on the screen and be added to the total. Yes, as you shop, you are going to know how much you are spending.  That’s a bit of a bummer.

I went back to deli and ordered cold cuts.  I scanned the ham and yes, I could immediately deposit it in the free reusable bag that they gave me when I started this adventure.  It sort of felt like I was stealing all of this merchandise, placing it in the bag.  The potatoes didn’t fit so I had to tell myself that yes, I had scanned them.  I wasn’t trying to rob City Market.

But wait.  Did I scan the cheese or not?  I couldn’t remember.  I went to the front of the store to get help.  (BTW I have now spent significant extra time shopping.)  The first employee didn’t know how to go back to see if I had scanned the item.  The second person, who came on board to assist, did know and seemed very confident.  She found that I had scanned it, but it came up twice.  So the six-dollar package of cheese now came up as twelve dollars. Neither woman knew how to delete so a store manager arrived in the nick of time to take care of business.

I told them that I was giving up.  I had made it through produce, deli, bakery, and the cereal/tea aisle and that was enough. They nodded and did nothing to encourage me to keep going.  The next step required that I go to self-check-out.  Of course, why would I need the help of a human for Scan, Bag, Go. I pointed the scanner at the screen and saw that now I was not charged for any of the cheese purchase.  Too honest, I called for help and that was fixed.

I paid and went back to aisle five to finish my shopping.  It was easy, comfortable, and just to please the Kroger people, I did go back to self-checkout to pay for the second half of my goods.  No problem.  I have learned my lesson.  I am tech-savvy, but I will not use this system unless I know I have a small order and I will have to check my receipt to make sure I didn’t double pay.

It was a beautiful late afternoon.  I strode out to the parking lot without a care in the world.  (Well, the kitty litter box did fall off of the bottom rack onto the asphalt.)  My original negative thoughts of this new system had been confirmed; I could keep my smug attitude.  I was almost to my car when the young transgender woman, who is actually looking rather attractive at this point, came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder, “Are these your glasses?”  Yes, in my haste at check-out I had left them there.  But a human being found me and gave them to me.  I could not do without him/her.

“Thank you so much.” Yes, I just love King Soopers.

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Are You a Worrier?

IMG_0828Christmas week may seem to be a strange time to think about worry. But we all know it can creep through any still, quiet morning before we are fully awake to meet the new day. Until today, I don’t think I’ve ever read about the subject. The only advice I’ve ever received is, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” Or “Worry doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Today, however, as I was resting, thinking if I started reading I might slip into a power nap, I read a wonderful essay by Fanny Britt, “Writing While Worried.” (If you are a reader, you should know about Granta magazine: you can Google it.) As I read about her worries, the one that hit her when she was caring for her sick child—it was only a bout of the flu—one line struck me: “Worry bestows intensity with one hand while robbing vitality with the other.”

Wow. If you answered “yes” to my title question, please read that sentence again.

She gives a bit of advice, actions that she recommends to herself. The section of the essay which resonated with me is her mention of authors, primarily Laurie Colwin, a name unfamiliar to me.  Colwin was a fiction writer but also a food writer before foodies appeared on the scene. She explains her admiration, saying, “Colwin is ever the advocate of a life redeemed by the stubborn repetition of the small necessary acts of everyday living. Cook, eat, clean up, start again. A life of work tempered by communion.”

Is that why I love the season of Christmas with all of the little repetitions I’ve been doing for all of my adult years: shopping for a perfect gift, baking traditional cookie recipes, decorating with the same ornaments, year after year, and placing them in the exact same spot time and again. The routine as an antedote to my angst for the world, our country, my family. What’s next. When will the shoe drop.

This past week a friend asked in a group setting how we were all planning to put Christ in our Christmas. Yesterday I heard a scholar say she has one foot planted in religion and one foot out. I think that’s me. Yet I know Christmas is a time when I think more of living a Christ-like life, doing for others and thinking more contemplatively. It’s no coincidence that just after Christmas we search for a New Year’s resolution.

“Star of wonder, star of night, star of royal beauty bright.” Time to look up, look out, and love the season of Christmas.


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Hand Work and Dear Life

Enter the Fabric Nook in Granby, Colorado, on the 31st of any month that has thirty-one days and there’s sure to be a party going on. On those days Tina, the owner, offers a bag’s worth of twenty-five percent off, any merchandise in the store.

I opened the shop door to a couple of small circles of seamstresses, talking about their quilts, their skin problems, I don’t know what else! Ladies having fun in the middle of the day in a shop that is filled with color and light and life.

I, too, was excited to choose my fabrics, sewing projects for Christmas gifts. I didn’t have to wait in line—well, there really wasn’t a line. The customers were more than customers as they admired one of the finished quilts a lady had brought in. No line, just a gathering.

She became the focus of attention as one person said, “You’re going to be at your sewing machine until your dying day.” “Yes,” she answered with a chuckle, as she made fists with her hands as if she were holding onto cloth, “I’m at my machine holding on for dear life.”

So today as I take a break from my sewing, I am simply sharing that sweet moment: her words and happiness and perhaps hope, that was given to all of us in the shop. Holding on for dear life, whether we are holding on to a knitting needle or a paint brush, a jigsaw, or a piece of cloth. All of the tools that keep our hands busy as our minds work, seeking answers to life’s questions and problems.

I think of a character in a book I read this fall—I can’t remember the source—who shouted in his abject anguish, “I want to use my hands. I want something to do with my hands.” A universal thought it seems to me. Using our hands to find healing.   Using our hands to make something, and if it’s good we enter that spiritual realm that some call God.

Too much depth for a day that was mostly about sewing a jacket? Perhaps.


I turn to my computer, holding onto words, hoping they will bring a smile to my reader’s day, especially to the folks at sewing machines and fabric nooks all over the land.




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The Faucet

IMG_0767To wash my hair or not. That was the question. I had already taken my morning shower but my hair was so frizzy and wavy and curly and the big event was just a couple of hours away. Humidity, whether it be in Portland, Oregon, or in Irvington, Illinois, is a serious impediment to my well-being.

Last minute decision: I would wash my hair in the little VRBO bathroom sink and not take a second shower. I put my head under the small faucet, more uncomfortable than I had imagined it would be. Through the shampooing process and then the conditioner and rinse, I turned my bowed head back and forth, back and forth so many times. So many times that by the time I raised my head to the towel, I felt sick. Motion sickness from washing my hair!

I had to lie down and told the kids I needed a little time. They got it. (They told me that they experienced motion sickness while dining by the water on a Greek isle during their honeymoon. Hmm. Something not quite comparable in this comparison.)

After I recovered and we went to Erika’s ordination, which was so sweet and so amazing, I forgot about my hair and my motion sickness, until the next day on our flight home, it became a metaphor for much of what I think many of us are experiencing.

I thought of the turmoil our country is enmeshed in: a president way in over his head; too many mentally disturbed with caches of firearms; the NRA, pharmaceutical companies and countless lobbies that are ruling over our Congress; and an emasculated EPA. Racist fear and anger all over the land, terrorism, and the suffering American Indians I met in South Dakota, now seen through my rear-view mirror. Add all of this to my personal issues, your personal problems and our heads are swimming. We are in a state of everyday nauseousness.

But on that Sunday in Portland, my hair dried and the metaphor had not yet come to my thinking. I recovered from my motion sickness and had one of the most meaningful experiences of my life—Erika’s ordination into the ministry.

We aren’t a family of daily Bible readers. No one else in the Hake or Spaet line was a preacher. Where did this come from? I have no answer.

But I know that we need young leaders such as Erika–in the ministry, in our government, in our classrooms, in the media, everywhere. That day at the Salt and Light Church gave me hope. When I was washing my hair under that too-small faucet, I didn’t have a focal point. I had temporarily lost it and became momentarily ill. Being in church brought a focus back to me.

At times our heads may feel stuck under a too-small rush of water, but we can recover with the help of young people, with the help of hope for better times ahead. The sermon of the day was about saying “Yes” to God, no matter how discouraged we feel. So that is my hope for myself and for you, that we always find ways to recover and move on, ways to help ourselves and our country. Ways to keep our focus on what is just and good.

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My Space

Recently I spoke with a friend, Kate, who had just returned from a trip abroad, alone without her husband. She talked about how wonderful it was to travel and be responsible for everything without any assistance from her life partner. I sensed she didn’t know how to feel about that as she loves her husband and, of course, looked forward to being at home with him again.

I reminded her of the Virginia Woolf book A Room of One’s Own. It has been so many years since I read it, but I know I have thought of its basic premise often. Woolf recognized that women need a room to think and write. Well, what would she think of our needs now! Many of us have big houses with plenty of rooms, but we seldom are alone in those rooms: TV from the family room blaring, Smart phones in our pockets dinging the latest message, computers sleeping just waiting to be opened.

And our husbands want a room, too. That’s what the man cave is about. Occasionally over the years Bob has seen a neon sign or a funky poster and expressed how cool it is, but we don’t have the right place for it in our house. He doesn’t have a man cave. His mother didn’t allow certain items to interfere with her décor, and now his wife is probably doing the same.

Why is it that most of my blog entries are written in Illinois? Not some coincidence. Here I think of my past, and when visiting Mom’s assisted living home, I think of my future. I ride my bike on country roads, and there is little need to hurry back to the house. I don’t have laundry piling up or calls to make. My problems seem distant and more in perspective. My clothes, camera, and computer are my only belongings. I don’t have to clean much of anything. (Well, I did clean out the poop from my sister’s chicken coop. Oprah and Carol Burnett are doing a good job of laying eggs and messing up their space.)

Simplicity. Thoreau is our best American example; I don’t long for that sort of life. But I know that Woolf has a point: call it a room, an open road, a compartment in a cross- country train. It is the space that we all need, sometimes urgently need, to think and sort through the clutter in our minds.

Yoga and meditation classes have taken off. Churches are still in business. The need that I feel must be universal. We each have to find our space to be alone and rediscover every day just who we are and who we want to be. I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know.

I think I’m writing to remind myself that I shouldn’t have this space only when I travel to my old home ground. For this morning it is a green metal rocking chair on Marsha’s front porch. A half hour ago it was my bike on a gravel road. That may be it for today. But how fortunate I am to have this space and time for now. And a kayak on the lake waiting for me when I return home.

In closing my blog on this peaceful summer morning, my sincere wish for Kate and all of you is that you find your space often, every day, wherever you are.


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Christmas Lights & More

img_4172I like the familiar. Given the choice between Safeway and our City Market, I always choose CM—my lieblings grocery store. And often on the way to Denver we drive through McDonalds. This morning, early before dawn, I drove through for my routine Egg McMuffin, secure in this one fast food choice—after all, the egg is from one chicken and the bacon is from Canada. The predictable is safe and good.

As I sipped my weak McDonald’s tea and munched on my sandwich, the morning lights—the Golden Arches and Christmas lights—guided my way to the mountain pass. The colorful lights of the season: I think they say, “This is home.”

Every year the lights and traditions of the season are a constant. For all of my life a Christmas Eve church service has been our only Christmas outing. That will continue for all of my days, I think. Yet my life and all of our lives are filled with change that swirls around the steady norms that we like so much.

How many times have I said to friends, “I hate change.” But this week while reading The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, I had an awakening:  My life has been filled with change and much of it has been wonderful. Why do I think I fear it.

When I started this blog in April 2013, I said this wouldn’t be about me. But tonight I am breaking my own rule and writing about myself. Yet I am thinking about many of us seniors who have experienced our children leaving home and wondering what will be next.

When our daughter moved to Portland, Oregon, oh, how I was so unsure of that. But I loved visiting Portland. Then she moved to Berkeley, and I enjoyed getting a taste of San Francisco.

Now she’s in Missouri with her husband. Wow! What a change. And how wonderful that has been for our family, especially for her 92 year-old grandmother.

And speaking of change:  when Mom’s move to an assisted living facility was impending, I could hardly allow myself to think of it. Now I see her healthy and happy. I’ve gotten to know her friends, enough that they ask me about the Colorado snow and what is new in our world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the calamities of change as opportunity for growth. I remember his essay from college reading, and when my father was ill during that time, I could not think of this calamitous change in my life as a positive, but Emerson was right. It just took time for me to know it.

Closer to home, last week I heard Erika talk about change through the metaphor of Tetris, a puzzle video game. Things in life build up, sometimes to near crises, and then suddenly the pieces reconfigure, fit together in new ways and provide relief. This is perhaps not exactly how she said it in her women’s book group, but I interpreted it in part as a new way of looking at change. Sometimes things are going along swimmingly, the new comes upon us, ready or not. At first it’s disorienting, sad, a breaking apart of the ways that we love. But oh, what joy can come from the new and unexpected.

I don’t know why Light of the World encouraged me to get back to my blog.  Something about Alexander’s prose spoke to me, the beauty and sadness of her life. Like many of you, I am often going through tough times. So I look for answers. I look for lines in books that will move me forward through the changes and the hurts.

I don’t know what will be next. There’s no way in the world I could make an educated guess, but finally, I am ready to think that I will like it, I will really like it. Christmas lights and church on Christmas Eve will always be my constant, but the rest of life, well, I’m ready and hoping for the joy and wonder of it all.




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