Friday, November 27, 2020

thanks and goodbye 2020 (finally)

In the midst of the pandemic I found support from family, friends, long walks and good tea. Additionally I either lost myself or found myself (depending on the moment and medium) through video, film, books, music and podcasts. This is not a "best of" list, yet each of these grabbed my heart and/or mind in a needed way, at the right time. Maybe you'll find some gems for the next steps of your journey.

  • That All Shall Be Saved, David Bentley Hart - In my earlier life I would have refused to read this book knowing it would be so far from "the truth." Now I read it and find hope in the expanse of possibilities. 
  • Fight For Our Lives, Saeed Jones - The best kind of memoir where a life is explored with a focus on terse reality of daily struggles while reaching for the possibility of love and hope. 
  • The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall - Friendship forged by sharing life in ministry (even Presbyterian). It reminded me of much that I have lived and some that I wished for. Caity, thanks for the recommendation and loan. 
  • Tightrope, Nicholas Kristoph & Sherly WuDunn - Kristoph grew up in the rural area west of Portland at about the time I was growing up 50 miles east in the shifting suburbs. His insights into how America does not work for so many is heartbreaking. His suggestions for change are essential for a better future for all. 
  • The Depositions, Thomas Lynch - Reading the words of this poet, undertaker the week my Mom died was a true gift. Lynch has a gracious way in helping me wake to better understanding death and thereby gives me the gift of life. 
  • My Dark Vanessa, Kate Russell - A complex story of the journey to adulthood and self discovery shrouded in an abusive relationship. Something of I Am Charlotte Simmons for a new era.
  • Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and You, Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi - While written for a young adult audience it begs to be read by many, if not all. I am, again, reminded that I have much to learn, grow and change. 
  • Carry, Toni Jensen - The voice and perspective of indigenous Americans is often overlooked or quashed. Jensen tells her story with a power we dare not ignore. 
  • 1919, Eve L. Ewing - With the backdrop of the explosive Chicago summer of 1919 Ewing uses poetry to capture the moment and remind us that there is still much to remember, reconcile and learn.
A few others not to miss are How the South Won the Civil War, Heather Cox Richardson (her daily evaluation of politics and news were the source of sanity throughout the election) , All the Real Indians Died Off, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, Later, Paul Lisicky, White Rage, Carol Anderson and the Myth of the American Dream, D. L. Mayfield (I promise, I'll stop...soon).

  • Mavis Staples (concert Edmond Center for the Arts, January 16) This was the second time we had seen Mavis with friends Rick and Heidi. As always Mavis brings an energy that creates a sense of community and passion that is the best sense of "church!" 
  • Over The Rhine (concert Songbirds, January 28) While in Knoxville for an annual visit with the Crossings community, I was told to get ready for a drive with an unknown destination. We eventually arrived in Chattanooga at Songbirds and I saw that OTR was on the bill. A surprise to see one of my favorites perform with close friends (Mark and Monica) and in a new (for me), great venue. We sat in the middle a few rows from the stage with a small crowd of maybe 50. A great gift from great friends! 
  • The Music of Cream (concert Wild Buffalo, March 1) One of the last public events I attended (with my good friend Erik and what appeared to be all the other aging Bellingham boomer's able to stay up past 9 PM) before the quarantine. It was an amazing show with offspring of the original artists bringing some of my favorite music and memories of the 60's, recreating sound that fed our souls. 
  • Songs of Our Native Daughters Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla & Allison Russell -  Together they explore historic roots speaking to current challenges through beautiful music with an impacting message.
  • Old Flowers, Courtney Marie Andrews - I'm still obsessed with May Your Kindness Remain, 2018. Her honest struggles with post-breakup life expressed in this new album proved the perfect balm for the daily realities of COVID and cultural upheaval. 
  • Bonny Light Horsemen, Anais Mitchell, Eric Johnson and Josh Kaufman - Another balance of music, cultural history and traditions being brought to the moment by accomplished folk artists. Thanks for the heads up, Bobby.
  • Soul Soothing Sunday Songs, Allison Moorer - Every other Sunday during the pandemic Allison has been live online. Her sets mix childhood church memories with songs of encouragement from pop culture over the years. Many songs repeat weekly, as does a brief appearance for a story and song with her husband, Hayes Carll.
  • Susie on Sundays, Susan Werner - Every Sunday during the pandemic Susan Werner has put on a show, online. She has mixed it up with differing themes and guests. She has covered a number of her albums and taken requests, even dedicating Fly Me to the Moon, Frank Sinatra style, to Connie on the weekend of our anniversary.
  • It ain't over yet, Rodney Crowell - My song and video for solace in the pandemic. Crowell joins with John Paul White and Rosanne Cash to tell of his life and hopes past, present and reaching forward. Painful and beautiful.
Also, don't miss The Rope Walker Radio Show on Facebook or YouTube. Difficult to explain, easy to love. 

  • The Kominsky Method, season 2 (Netflix) Growing old, life shifts, the "D" word (death), friendship, family connections...guess what stage of life I'm in. The perfect balance of reality and humor. 
  • Unorthodox (Netflix) What could been have another all too common story of growing through and beyond religious traditions and upbringing is told with acting grace, story and pace to carry it beyond the cliches.  
  • Watchmen (HBO) The series opens with the story of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. This, somehow, little known historic event sets the stage for a chaotic journey to find the truth and move toward justice in our current world.
  • Douglas, Hannah Gadsby (Netflix) Gadsby challenges predjuices and fixed mindsets. While the laughs are appreciated, we would do well to listen to her insights however delivered.
  • Parks and Rec (NBC) True pandemic binging. We made it through all seven seasons and loved it all. We connected with characters and enjoyed the storylines and that was enough.
  • Da 5 Bloods (Netflix) A story from my generation, but one that opens my understanding to the African American experience that I often ignored or misunderstood. Clearly, we need to make amends for our cultural transgressions, understand each other, support each other and take care of each other.
  • Just Mercy (Cretton) As the teenage ticket-taker said as I entered the theater, "Every high school kid in America should have to watch this movie." I agree.
  • The Crown, Moondust, Season 3, episode 7 (Netflix) Mid-life crisis meets spiritual awakening. What more do you need?
  • Homeland (Showtime) I'd seen bits over the years. Being stuck at home allowed me to take it all in. Watching it in a tight time frame necessitated frequently checking, "What year are we in now?" Great acting and story telling throughout.

  • Code Switch (NPR) Direct conversations about race, often focused on issues being lived out across America this year. 
  • Who Are We (Vox Media) Each episode focuses on a different period in American history and how it links to systemic racial injustice today.   
  • Driving the Green Book (Macmillan Podcasts) First, this goes beyond the movie. With the backdrop of the Great Migration, Host Alvin Hall explores the historic realities African Americans experienced, especially related to life opportunity and travel safety.
  • It's Been a Minute (NPR) Sam Sanders makes thing happen. His energy, insight, curiosity and interviewing skills open learning opportunities in refreshing ways. 
  • No Compromise (NPR) My choice for podcast of the year. Gritty look into extremist gun rights activists that bleed from Christian Nationalism. This dangerous movement will continue long after any a single election is settled.
  • Embedded (NPR) Do not miss the "Mitch McConnell" episodes.
  • Very Presidential (Apple Podcasts) Perfect for my US history geekiness. An weekly insiders look into the life of a president. By better understanding the people, the office and the times I am better able to understand our history and the why of where we stand today.  
  • the Last Archive (Pushkin Industries) The tagline is "Who killed truth?" A weekly journey through history tracing evidence, proof and knowledge. The journey challenges common beliefs and deep-seated perceptions.
  • Throughline (NPR) A weekly journey back in history to understand the future. The 2020 topics would be an excellent curriculum for any civics or US History class.

I'll close with a poem I wrote in May that captures some of the pressures and hopes of the year:



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Obituary revisited for me, JRLS (advance copy)


James Richard Lester Schmotzer

born: March 18, 1954


Portland born and raised

childhood of neighborhood adventures and friends

with unpredictable episodes of haunting, lingering secrets

youthful awakening brought craved for hope and direction

young love became young marriage with Connie in ’74

Michael and Kyle arrived in the early ‘80’s

family, career and faith merged

exhilarating, confusing and, at times, a train wreck

struggles with institutions said as much about him

as about the organizations

privately always a bit overwhelmed while often

publicly perceived as calm and steady

thankfully family and friendships outlasted jobs

anxious, reactive certitude gradually morphed toward reflective acceptance

faith and mystery became central guides and supports

relationships, conversations, stories, laughter, heartache, songs and poems

became air and water, bread and wine, daily sustenance

hoped, worked and waited, often impatiently,

for the day when justice and peace would embrace

and bring the fullness of shalom


died: although his death date may be established it is not yet widely known

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Obituary revisited for my Mom (BLSH)

Barbara Lester Schmotzer Higley

born: March 21, 1932


raised in “the country”

Daddy died and Mama went cold in’41

family never quite recovered

moved to “the city” during “the war”

married JES in ‘53

he argued (fought?) with his mother,

at the reception, then drank the evening away, alone

while Barbara was crying, alone

first son born in ’54 and second in ’57

worked so hard to be

the friend of the friendless

while always on the edge of her own despair

grasping for that which she could not have or hold

unmoored by divorce, fears confirmed, again,

gradually regained her footing,

new work, new friends,

eventually a new home and husband

until age and failing health brought a

darkness too soon, too long before the end,

again affirming the sense of never holding

that long desired love and security

which perished with her Daddy,

oh, so long ago


died: June 26, 2020


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Obituary revisited for my Dad, JES

James Eldon Schmotzer

born: July 23, 1932


Portland born and east side raised

by teen years he had distanced from his parents,

maybe his choice, maybe theirs, probably both

followed his brothers dropping out

and joining the military to “see the world,”

got stuck in Guam

returned home and reconnected with Barbara

she broke her engagement, to another,

and agreed to marry in ’53

after an argument (fight?) at the reception

with Estelle, his mother, he spent the night alone, drinking

Barbara spent hers alone and crying

first son born in ’54 and second in ’57

settled in the suburbs

changed jobs…frequently

eventually into management, relative stability

known for being honest and hardworking, at work

unpredictable, at times irresponsible, at home

climbed the ladder, leaving Barbara behind, far behind

the inevitable second marriage,

to Barbara’s one time best friend

quit smoking and drinking

became attentive to kids and grandkids

heart attack in ‘96 ushered in a pain filled year

with cancer having the final word


died: August 1, 1997

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sure taught ‘em (the Corona Chronicles)

Black Lives Matter Protests In Small Towns Are Important

News spread that teenagers had organized a “Black Lives Matter” March. Never before had such things happened in this small “Christian” town.

Sunday about 200 locals walked from the high school toward downtown. Hecklers roared by in big trucks while others stood on porches and under awnings, many flashing rifles, taunting the teens with, “Blue Lives Matter,” “USA,” and “Go back home.” Some stooped to, “Black Lives Don’t Matter.”

The kids held together, chanting in unison and encouraging that all, “Love one another.”

As marchers dispersed an old timer was heard saying, “Sure taught ‘em what Christian America is all about.”

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Running away

After reading books I ran away to join the circus but couldn’t find it anywhere.

Jumped a train, headed west to see whatever it was that Greely promised. Discovered it was long gone and sadly forgotten.

I found a Montana ranch and tried to be a cowboy. But it was nothing like TV promised.

Stowing away on a plane was my last hope. Finding myself with hypothermia in an unknown hospital was my crushing disappointment.

I went to college, got a job, married and had kids. Like they said I should. And this is where my story ends.

Fiction 101 - The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Maybe the end of (the Corona Chronicles)

story 1 - The end of the world 

It’s my 16th birthday and this quarantine is the end of the world.

Think about it. No driving to school with my new license. No school day with balloons, flowers, somebody bringing me a coffee drink, teachers letting me slide and everybody saying, “Happy Birthday.” No ditching campus with friends to get a decent lunch. No Starbucks run after school. No party with my best friends. No staying out late with my boyfriend and not getting in trouble from my parents because it’s my DAY.

Like I said, it’s the end of the world.

story 2- Long before

My Grandma, your Great-Great Grandma, she told me. About 100 years ago, long before you were born, the virus came and life shut down. Everybody strayed home, didn’t go to work, school, restaurants or shopping.

She said it wasn’t that tough until Grandpa got sick. He was tested and she was praying that it wasn’t the virus. It was. He had to go to the hospital. No visitors, not even Grandma. She got updates saying he was fading and she knew before the final call arrived.

I can tell you the sadness of loss never left her.

story 3 - Never returned 

“…sharp knife and cheap booze, maybe drugs. So much blood.” The EMT shook his head while transferring the patient to the ER staff.

“But, he cut off his own hand?”

“He mumbled something about, “How do you know when the germs are gone?” I think he passed out trying to cut off the other one. Wouldn’t have made it here if his sister hadn’t checked in on him.”

“I think she’s brought him in before. Some mental health thing.”

“Sad stuff. She told us he’s never really returned from that tour of duty in Afghanistan.”

story 4 - “The Villa” 

Always knew I came to “The Villa” to die. The virus ramped up that reality. We’ve been designated a hot spot. I want to see my kids and grandkids. They say no one’s coming or going.

We fly the clubhouse flag at half-mast when a resident dies. Usually happens once a week. Seems like it’s down more than up now.

Schultz started a pool. You pick an hour block each day predicting when someone will die. I made a couple hundred bucks on Tuesday.

Sounds morbid, but wait until you hit this stage, see what you do for fun.

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Oh please, enlighten me

So I should consider it okay
if it’s my Mom, age 88,
blind from strokes, confined to a care facility
and, wait for it,
giddy with the joy of new found love.
Or my wife, a cancer survivor,
who looks too young to be in any high-risk population.
Or our son who was born premature and
has been fighting the odds each new day.
Or one of my grandkids, (Who would dare to
tell me that any of my grandkids are merely fodder
so we can save our precious economy?)
Oh, and add to the list life-long friends,
co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances.

And you want me to believe
their death is acceptable because:
as Americans our rights are sacred and demand risks,
or they probably have some
weakening condition and would soon die,
or it is just their time,
or (please spare me)
god called them home
(or to a better place,
or fill in the vapid cliché of your choice).

That’s all I have.
But I’m sure you have more.
So, please enlighten me as to  
why I should gratefully fight for and
enjoy my rights and privileges
even at the cost of the life
of one of these, so dear to me?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

We’re trying (the Corona Chronicles)

“I… can’t… take… this… shit… any… more!”

“Come on Kris, language. Your Father and I are trying to make the best of these tough times. It’s hard on everybody.”

“I don’t care. I’m outa here. You don’t understand. I need some friends.”

“You aren’t going anywhere. Keys and phone, NOW!”


“Taking away friends and games seems the only way to get you to listen.”

“Come on!”

“This isn’t a conversation. Take that laptop, go to your room and get your school work done.”

“OK.” …Does she really have no clue what I’m going to be doing all morning?

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

nothing we can do

another too short night bleeds into another
too hectic morning that transitions to a too dark,
too dreary, too windy, too rainy northwest commute

check email, brew tea, get organized, remember: 
treat people how i hope to be treated,
all that golden rule stuff
interact with staff, kids arrive, and arrive,
and arrive, half asleep, bleary eyed, glued to phones,
laughing and scheming with friends, 
shoves and grabs, some alone, so alone, 
squeals, insults and accusations, chatter perks
to a disorientating racket, remember:
they are somebody's babies 
bell rings, ever-morphing bodies
grudgingly crowd through halls and into chairs

i think again about the unnamed weight hovering,
bearing down and the knowing, that it can happen there
reminding me daily, it can happen here
and i hope they don't think about it
as often as i do and i hope they don't realize
there is nothing we can do to predict or stop it

Monday, May 11, 2020

Too much pain (the Corona Chronicles)

I always believed in America, God and country. Had to protect our rights.

Trusted my President. He knew what was best and would take care of us. He said, “Don’t fear.” “Liberate.” “Go back to work.” My soul raged. Crazy liberals weren’t shutting down our country.

Covid-19 infected my husband, fear, hospital, pain and so alone. Then our granddaughter. My secret favorite. Same result, only much more pain.

This is beyond what I can take. I refuse to be next. Thanks for your love and support. I pray my leaving this way doesn’t cause you too much pain.

Grand Lawn Cemetery | Detroit MI funeral home and cremation

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Can’t be (the Corona Chronicles)

It was a perfect day for a parade.

The organizer, a local restaurant owner, was quoted, “We’re hard working Americans. We have our rights. We need to work.”

Cars, trucks and tractors were covered in red, white and blue. They stretched for a mile slowly making their way through town honking horns and waving to the cheering crowd.

The crack of the gun was barely audible. Cars abruptly stopped and whispers drifted down the street.

“Someone’s been shot.”
“A kid.”
“Not Amy, she’s only three.”
“It can’t be.”

Sirens and lights filled the street as the hushed crowd dispersed.

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Our soul knows (the Corona Chronicles)

Tuesday bleeds to Wednesday to Thursday to Friday to who knows or cares. Meals morph from a creative endeavor to scouring for palatable sustenance. TV, or more accurately streaming, drifts from overwhelming choices to muddled distractions. Whether shack or castle, home feels too crowded. And the Internet just plain sucks.

No matter our “creature comforts,” or our being in control our soul knows that we do not know what we have always known. And our commitments and connections will wonder, while bearing the ache and scars, long into the future.

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Work with me, people (the Corona Chronicles)

“Let’s go. Wait, where’s Stevie?”

“I told you teenagers sleep late.”

“We’ve got six people. This chart shows the day in 30-minute increments. Each person has a designated workspace and device. We’ll have two breaks to evaluate progress and lunch together at Noon.”

“Sheesh, recruiter said I couldn’t join the Army without a diploma.”

“Why does Acie get the kitchen table and Marq the new IPad?”

“None of my friends have to work more than two hours a day. This sucks.”

“Work with me, people. This is the greatest opportunity for family connection we’ve ever had.”

Fiction 101: The goal is to write a story in 101 words or less.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Enough (the Corona Chronicles)

Reality TV crews followed the Newton’s, drooling for the pain and grief of quarantine life.

Stereotypes were everywhere. Bess, Mom a cutthroat executive. Jake, the unemployed closeted gay Dad. Sammi, the (secretly) pregnant drop out. Drake, the cute, funny son. And Fritzie, the loveable dog.

Week one drew viewers as the family adjusted to being all together, all the time. Ratings jumped week two as outbursts edged near violence. After episode three the show was cancelled.

A national critic noted, “It’s bad enough we’re all living this every day. We don’t need it jammed down our throats at night.”

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Thanks for asking (the Corona Chronicles)

That first week was briefly idyllic, an extended vacation with the welcome absence of oft-repressive obligations. Week two brought a disorientating awareness of the shift in commitments and relationships that long justified my existence. By week three I was overwhelmed with the contradiction of increasing time and decreasing motivation. The fourth week brought ego bruises painfully revealing my inability to turn this chaos into some golden opportunity. 

By six, seven and eight I had devolved to maintaining basic needs while bargaining with the almighty for any possible escape.

Thanks for asking. So, how are you handling the quarantine?

Calendar pages

Fiction 101: Tell a story in 101 words or less.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Essentials? (the Corona Chronicles)

Trying to be stealth I parked in the back and wore a mask. Maybe I should’ve gone to another store.

Grabbed eggs, milk and bread; everybody needs eggs, milk and bread. Tried to think what else would look good. Dodged a neighbor with a quick corner-aisle redirection move. Dumped random stuff in the cart. Went to the checkout with the “college kid” who could care less about me or what I bought. 

225 dollars, geeze. Better than being embarrassed by family and friends for violating the Governor’s Orders when I only needed ice cream…you know, essentials. And the beer.

Fiction 101: The goal is to tell a story in 101 words or less.

Friday, April 17, 2020

COVID-19 hits home(s) - (the Corona Chronicles)

This collection of "Fiction 101" short stories (101 words or less) are told from the perspective of six different kids reflecting on life in the daily reality of the Coronavirus.


Mom takes care of old folks and Dad works at a farm. I watch the little ones.

It’s tough doing schoolwork when my brother and sister are crying, fighting or hungry. I try to keep up but sometimes the Wi-Fi goes out. Teachers are nice and keep checking in, but I sure miss my friends.

I wish we could get food from school, but my parents are always working. I have to fix dinner for everyone every day. Why can't Grandma be with us?

Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll make it until school to starts again.


During the virus thing we’re staying at Dad's. Mom works at the hospital, so she’s really busy. He lets us sleep late. We eat breakfast and check in with school, do some work, play video games and chat with friends. Dad focuses on his stuff until we get noisy.

At lunchtime Dad asks questions to check how we are doing. If we can make him think we’re caught up we get free time. There’s not much to do, so we get bored. I sure miss my friends.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll make it until school to starts again.


Mom’s usually working on her computer or texting with friends. Dad keeps yelling on the phone, reminding people he’s the boss. At least when they are high they leave us alone. We’re lucky when we get take-out because neither of them cooks worth shit.

I try doing schoolwork. When I need help from Mom she’s busy with the baby. And Dad’s he tells me it’s my responsibility. Teachers are nice and keep checking in, but I sure miss my friends.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll make it until school to starts again.


Dad calls, “Up and ready.” for breakfast by 7. At 7:30 Mom starts with “Write about three things you learned yesterday.” Next Dad breaks from his work for Math and Science. Mom does PE before lunch. Then we get 30 minutes on our own, no screens. Next back to Mom for History. An old movie if we’re lucky.

We do afternoon chores until dinner. Finally 30 minutes of screen time, hopefully connecting with friends. The day ends with reading time and bed by 9:30.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll make it until school to starts again.


Dad’s trying to teach his third graders while helping me do my Middle School stuff. He gets edgy quick sometimes. Mom’s gone a lot for her job at the clinic.

When Mom’s home she gets ticked at Dad because he gets frustrated with me. She says things like, “You’re a teacher.” or, “You need to be more patient.” Which kinda makes him more frustrated.

By the afternoon I’m glad we’re done with school. I sure miss my friends.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll make it until school to starts again.


At Mom’s house she bitches about Dad leaving us. At Dad’s we hear about the “Assholes that took my job.” It’s best when he’s drunk and not hitting us. We’re lucky when they remember to get food on school pick-up days.

I try doing schoolwork each day. When I need help from Mom she’s on her phone. At Dad’s he’s usually in his room with his new girlfriend. Teachers are nice and keep checking in, but I sure miss my friends.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll make it until school to starts again.

School closings through April due to coronavirus - WBBJ TV