Friday, June 23, 2017



I see her sitting in her wheelchair, just outside her door at the nursing home where I visited my Mom.  A diminutive, grey haired woman looking intently at the paperback in her two hands.  Every day I’d see her there. Reading, I thought. A kindred spirit. Another book worm.  Maybe one day that would be me, I smiled to myself.

Then I noticed something.  Her book was upside down.  A twinge of sadness accompanied that realization.  The book it seems was just a prop.  Or perhaps an echo of a lifetime of enjoying stories.  

That picture in my head is at least 15 years old and still as vivid as if it were last week.  Today  the vision of her comes when I am daydreaming.  I love to daydream and do it more and more as I age.  I wonder now, if that dear old soul I see in my mind’s eye was not so much staring vacantly at that wrong side up book, as she was daydreaming  Aha.  Still a kindred spirit!

I’ve always daydreamed.  Always with a sense of doing something I should snap out of.  A sense of wasting time.  The first conversation I recall concerning this propensity goes back to third grade.  My parents, returning from a meeting with my teacher, shared what I did well and where I needed to improve.  As all parents do.  As I did many times over.  But the only assessment I remember - and remember vividly, was that if JoMae could only stop staring out the window, dreaming, she would do so much better in school.  Perhaps that is why I’ve never seen this as a positive habit.  

Now that  I’m alone after a long and happy marriage, I catch myself daydreaming a lot.  Sometimes remembering.  Often imagining.  I’ve been noticing lately how similar it is to writing.  While I love to write, I’ve never before connected the two hobbies.  Now I have decided to embrace those daydreams.  Try to capture them.  Recognize this practice as something positive.  Write down those small scenarios that carry me away and see what happens.  And if someone should observe me staring into space, don’t worry.  I’m not vacant or lost or mixed up.  I’m writing!

My little old lady from so long ago, no longer living, I am sure,  still lives on among the pictures in my head.  Only now I think of her as gathering stories.  She may not have been able to write them down, but I suspect they were vivid to her mind’s eye and entertained her hours on end.  I’ll try to write mine down for both of us.


Thursday, May 11, 2017



I see the world from both sides now
The dream the dance
The final bow

I see the inside out of life
As grief wraps tight around me -
Blankets me with memories of laughter

I hear the silence screaming out
The void, the empty chairs
Where quiet conversation was the norm.

The look, the sigh, the grin is gone
The whistling is dead
Hollowness abounds

I feel the shift of weight upon my shoulders
Which once, resting upon two,  
Was shared with joy.  

I move through vacant rooms
And see you there
Without the music, hear your song 

I fix a meal and eat
Uninterrupted by the sound of
Your companionship

The everyday comments
Often about nothing
Yet everything to me - now gone


Before I gave birth 
I could not imagine the experience of that 
Separation of two beings out of one

Either the birthing or the
Life that followed as a Mom
So Full of Joy

Before I knew the death of one so truly half of me
I could not fathom an experience so profound
As the separation of the two of us

Either the immediate loss or the
Learning to walk on my own
So full of grief



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Road Trip Reflections

Debriefing the Road Trip

Seismic upheaval; small subtle change 
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference


We always loved our road trips
Whether a thousand miles or just a few

We loved to drive and watch the seasons change
To get away for an afternoon, a day, a week or more

He loved to find wide open sky with clouds to celebrate
I, the lakes in Spring before the leaves unfurled to hide them

His preference was beautiful classical music - especially piano
Mine was folk or PBS talk radio

We shared.  The radio, the driving, our preferences,
While pointing out gorgeous clouds or scenery

He loved Savannah and other old cities to explore
I often chose a balcony or a park bench to wait 
and people watch or read til he returned

We both loved the quiet companionship of our rides
Miles rolled by as each travelled deep into our own thoughts

We loved those long days together
Away from our routine




I wanted to try it.  Felt reasonably sure I could do it.
Yet wondered if the familiar would be empty without his company

I’ve always loved to drive, so decided to plan carefully
Then get into the car and go

I loved it!  Loved moving through the blush of green as Spring awoke
As trees brought forth still tiny leaves and new born flowers added color 

Almost felt guilty to enjoy it so much.  But enjoy it I did
Felt calm and centered; strong and ‘together’

No sense of being scattered or lost or unsure.
John wasn’t there, yet our patterns were

Coffee in the thermos.  Talk radio the whole day 
A motel reserved waiting halfway there
And at the finish line, family was waiting
To warmly welcome me.  

It felt good.  I felt safe.  I felt competent
Yet, I pondered, how could I enjoy this so much without him?

Until I understood\ it wasn’t a comparison of this way or that
These trips were apples and oranges

If I had a chance to go back and travel with John again,
That would be wonderful.  I would enjoy every minute

But now I am traveling alone 
and so thankful for the joy I find in it!
I loved the solitude!  Of being in control! 
Even of owning the radio!  

New and yet not new. 
  Informed by many years of traveling together
I’m so glad to discover that road trips are still in my future
And there is no need to be afraid. 
I can be good company to me



Sunday, April 23, 2017


-- Tulips Every Spring Remind Us That New LIfe Always Follows Winter --

~ Mending Broken Cords ~
Lives long lived in intimate proximity, shape each other for better or for worse.  Thankfully, ours was abundantly for better.  

During many years together, our ways rubbed off onto each other.  Each of our unique manners of being, tempered the other.  Moreover,  in our mutual love and respect we molded ourselves to accommodate our differences - to better fit together.  In many ways we held each other up.  In some small ways, I suppose, in accepting each other’s foibles, we held each other back.

By the time we  began to reach our 80s, many strands were interwoven within that protective shell encasing us. So many nurturing veins ran between and through the two of us that when John was unexpectedly taken, it felt akin to a ruthless ripping apart of con-joined twins. Like an earthquake tearing woven strands asunder.  Suddenly it was over.  The harmony of this intricate duet has gone quiet.  

When one half of a couple dies,  disappears into the mystery of eternity, numerous cords are left dangling and disconnected. The shell which nurtured two, shatters when one is taken. yet the one remaining faces a new journey as well.  Paths full of lessons on how to carefully gather the dangling ends and somehow find a way to weave the broken parts together and go on- now without the familiar support and companionship of her other half.  To find her balance and a purpose for each day.  To find out who she is in this new reality.

Who will she now be?  How to figure out just who you are when half of you is missing?  Clearly you are not the girl you were before you married.  You have changed and adapted to blend into the harmony you loved.  Gradually you notice a quiet chipping taking place.  A gentle reshaping.  A stiffening of backbone over here,  A quiet confidence seeping in.  New interests surface.  A new resolve for decisions that did not quite fit into the scheme of things before begins to emerge.  Each small accomplishment of something new builds on another as slowly you discover who you are - and are becoming.

All this brings to mind that once before, long ago, I was aware of a new beginning.  The summer before seventh grade, our family moved across the country.  On the one hand it was awful to leave everyone and everything I knew behind.  On the other hand, there was no choice, so when my older sister  decided to use the move as an opportunity for a new start in life, I was the perfect copy cat.  This was our chance to shed all bad habits and turn over an fresh page.  To put our best foot forward.    

We would start by changing our names.  Genevieve Arlene would now be Arlene.  She was in high school, older and wiser and able to accomplish her goal.  She is Arlene to this day.  Josephine Mae, younger and less sure of herself, didn’t do so well.  At home I’d always been JoMae.  At our new library in Northern Minnesota I signed up as Mae.  At school, my parents registered me as Josephine.  Elsewhere I was Jo and often simply, JoMae.  Mostly I was horribly mixed up.  Unable to remember who I was where.  Terribly embarrassed at the library one day, when they couldn’t find me under the ‘J’s, I gave the whole thing up.  Walking home in tears, I vowed to never let that happen again and have  happily been JoMae ever since.  

 Now, once again, I must discover who I am. Blessed by the support of friends and family and surrounded by our home full of the many reminders of the love we grew here, I have had the gift of time to process what has happened, to ponder the meaning of it all and to get over the shock.  Most important, I  have been held together by the firm and loving hands of Godde. Through the whole of this experience, I’ve been shielded from falling into the pit of despair I first expected.  And with Godde’s help am discovering who I am; who I will be.  Even, unexpectedly, coming to anticipate the journey.  I am learning many lessons.  Perhaps I will find ways to share some of them.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Bright Red Parka


 A Foster Mom Looks Back  

Denny was one of the foster babies our family cared for in the '60s.  A beautiful child with huge brown eyes, the softest bronze cheeks, dark hair that nicely hugged his head and a smile that would melt your heart!  He wasn't our first, but the first who stayed for 18 months.  Usually our infants were adopted within half a year, but this mother had a hard time making a final decision.  You have to admire a mom like that. She had other children but couldn't afford another mouth to feed. It was hard for her to let him go.  He arrived a couple months old in April of 1968 and left in Sept of 1969.  Bruce, our youngest at the time, was 3 1/2 when Denny arrived and an almost 5 kindergartner when he left.  Judy went from 6 to 7 1/2 and Dan from 8 to 9 1/2 while he was with us.  We all loved him and he was soon part of the gang.  We were campers and I have photos where John is carrying Denny in the back pack and Bruce on his shoulders. We had to remind our children from time to time that just like Sherry and the others, Denny would one day have a family of his very own and wouldn't need ours any more.  

Denny was a crier and some days screamed a lot!  Endlessly it seemed.  He so wanted to be held.  I should have asked for help with this troubled darling, but I remember thinking, "You signed up for this job and should be able to handle it by yourself."  Until one late Spring day our neighbor Dot, from across the street, heard him again.  A mom herself with grown up sons, she marched over and insisted on taking him for the afternoon. "Let me help you so you can get some work done."  Work?  Little did she know!  With my 4 year old down for his nap, I immediately crawled into bed myself - feeling as cared for by her kindness as was Denny in her arms!

The summer after Denny arrived, my youngest brother was getting married in Miami.  John knew how badly I wanted to go yet how impossible it seemed.  "Why don't you go," he offered.  "I'll take a week's vacation and stay home with the kids."  We realized that child care would be a whole different ball game with a baby in the mix.  We could either ask for a respite foster home for a week, or ask permission from Social Services for me to take him along.  In the end, Denny and I flew off to Florida together.  A first flight for both of us!   Relatives lined up to hold this little charmer, so the crying was less of a problem than at home and the trip was a wonderful break for me!  Back home John had a new connection with our three and even got some painting done on the house, as I recall.

In those days I loved to get a sitter and go downtown to shop occasionally while the older kids were in school.  Shopping was my way of getting off by myself for a while.  I loved the bargain basements at Edward's, Sibley's and McCurdy's.  I'd come home with outfits for the kids, maybe some Christmas or birthday gifts, but mostly that wonderful feeling of being away from my routine and returning with treasures to light up the eyes of the kids!  As I look at old photos today I can often picture myself buying that fabric or that beautiful little Easter dress - marked way down and perfect for our Judy!  Or that little bright red parka for Denny.  One day I found three vivid sweatshirts perfect for our trip out west.  The kids wore them inside out at the campground and turned them right for visiting family or going into a town!  Bruce's was yellow, Judy's bright pink and Dan's dark green.  

For three weeks during his second summer with us, Denny did go to respite care. Friends of our family   were also foster parents.  We often babysat for each other so he was in a familiar place.  We camped with my parents all the way to the west coast, visiting my sister's family in Oakland and another sister in Los Angeles.  Everyone got a kick out of the inside out sweatshirts!

As that summer came to an end, we started to hear about a new home for Denny.  We began to prepare the children for his move.  After some visits with his adoptive family, a date was set.  We talked about it.  I wrote a note to the new parents about his routine, his favorite foods, toys etc.  About how much we loved him and would miss him and how happy we were for them.  Finally the day came and the children said goodbye before leaving for school.  They knew Denny would be gone when they came home. I finished packing his clothes and toys and things.  Then dressed him in a favorite outfit topped off with his cheerful red jacket. It was light weight cotton with a hood.  The worker came around 10:30 am to pick him up.  It was hard to say goodbye.  With one last hug and kiss, I tried to save my tears till he was gone.  He waved goodbye and so did I.  At his age, he didn't understand.

About an hour later, Bruce's bus dropped him off from Kindergarten.  Running into the house, he dropped his stuff and glanced around with a shocked look on his little face.  "You shoulda hided him, Mom."  With that the tears came back while we held and comforted each other.  "Now Denny has a family of his very own - just as you and Dan and Judy do," I reminded him.

I recall that a few days after Denny moved to his adoptive home,  I drove downtown to shop.  I kept being distracted by a flash of red here and there - both in the stores and on the street.  Each time I felt compelled to take a closer look.  "Could that be Denny in that bright red parka in that woman's arm?"   The image of my last glimpse of Denny looking over his worker's shoulder in his hooded red jacket was stamped on my mind's eye. For some time after he left I seemed to see red parkas every where!

JoMae Spoelhof

Foster children's names have been changed

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Climate Change

- Our Climate is Changing -

What will tomorrow bring?


The climate is changing in our world.  In more ways than one. Our environment has changed - and not only in terms of nature’s beauty and our need to care for it.  

A heavy handed threat is creeping into our daily lives.  One that destroys a sense of safety we in this country have long enjoyed.  I know the seed of it has been here all along. Many have suffered the fear and pain of it.  Mostly the poor, the disadvantaged and those among us who still live with the degrading echoes of the shameful hand of slavery.  

One difference today though, is that while every generation brings forth those who work to role back the fist,  it seems a climate of heavy handedness is now increasing.  Bit by bit it is rolling over us.  The dread of it is oozing little by little.  Each time we read of travelers detained for hours and then denied entry to even visit our country, the thought creeps in - could that be me next time I travel?  Could that be my friend, coming to address our conference next fall?

We who travel, now have one more burden to consider.  What if I am ordered to leave the seat I’ve paid for and never dreamed was not secure?  Will I refuse to be bullied, as did the Dr. on United the other day?  There is always the chance of delay and missed connections, but this latest visceral reminder of manhandling as an acceptable pattern of doing business, is a worrisome trend.  A disturbing echo of stories heard from third world countries or those living under the thumb of a  dictator and his strongmen.  

I wonder how much further we will travel down this path, how much deeper we will descend into this climate before arriving at a better sense of balance, a healthier climate for our children and grands.  


Thursday, December 22, 2016

John 4/5/35-12/15/16

May Your Joy Be Complete

John Calvin Spoelhof
April 5, 1935  -  December 15, 2016

 “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, 
just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that 
your joy may be complete.”    John 15:10-11