Monthly Archives: May 2015

BR on May 7, 2013It isn’t very often that a person can decide one day to change their entire life…and then stick to it. Even if the change was made to save their life. Humans aren’t usually a strong willed bunch. Nevertheless, when someone makes up their mind that they want to live and that they want to live life to the fullest, it can be done. My sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg is an amazing example of such will power. When she first started this journey, she didn’t think she could do it, but now she won’t quit.

When Brenda was told that she had Cellulitis, Congestive Heart Failure, and Sleep Apnea, she didn’t sit down and cry about it, saying that her life was over, so she might just as well, give up. No, she decided that she was going to take back her life, and move forward. Her journey has been an amazing one, and it was all done is a very April 29, 2014 to April 29, 2015short time. From October 18, 2013 when she first went to the hospital to the current time, Brenda has lost over 300 pounds. She is within a pound or two of her goal weight, and then will begin weight maintenance.

Much has changed in Brenda’s life. I don’t think that she ever dreamed that she would spend so much time hiking…or that she would love to go hiking. There are several of us in the family who love to hike, and I have to wonder if Brenda used to think we were all crazy. Well, welcome to the nut house Brenda. Now, I’m sure there are people in your life who think you are just a little bit crazy too. In all reality though, hiking is so fun and relaxing. Once you get started on it, it is really hard to think about not going.

On the Platte River TrailOf course, Brenda still works full time, but her job is a little bit easier to do these days. Trying to work when you spend your entire life exhausted is no fun, but now that Brenda has lots of energy, the only time she is very tired is at bedtime, and that is normal. That in itself is a huge change, since Brenda spent most of her weekends sleeping in an effort to feel rested. It still wasn’t enough sleep. No more!! Now, Brenda is an inspiration to those around her…either that…or they just find her exhausting. It doesn’t matter which it is, because Brenda isn’t going back. She loves her new life, and all the activity in it. She loves hiking, and being outdoors, and will go even in the rain. It’s a “have raincoat, will hike” situation. Today is Brenda’s birthday. Happy birthday Brenda!! Another year better!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Xander - Go WyoMy grand nephew, Xander Spethman is just completing his last year of elementary school, and when his mom, Jenny Spethman told me that, I just couldn’t believe it. Where could all the years have gone. Xander doesn’t seem like a little boy to me anymore, I suddenly realized, but it still doesn’t seem possible that he is ready for middle school. I know that when my grandchildren started going to middle school, it felt strange to think that they would not all be in the same school as their siblings anymore. That is what my first thought was concerning Xander too. Would it feel odd that he wouldn’t see his brothers, Zack and Isaac during the day anymore. And would it feel strange for them that their big brother would be in a different school now. Maybe kids don’t think that way. Maybe it’s just me. and the way my mind works. It just seems so strange when the big brother, who has made himself his brothers’ keeper, will now no longer be there to keep a close eye on his little brothers.

Xander has always been a boy who takes responsibility seriously. Whether it is watching out for his brothers Hot tubbingand sister, taking out the trash for his grandma without being asked, stocking shelves for the little neighborhood grocery story, or helping his dad, Steve Spethman work for days to help clear fallen branches in his neighborhood after a severe snow storm last year. He sees what needs to be done and he simply figures he might as well be the one to do it…an amazing decision for a boy.

Xander is a leader and not a follower. He has a God given take charge attitude. He leads other in the right direction and encourages them to do what is right. Xander stands up for God, and stays focused in the Word. His bed can often be found with his Bible on it, open to the last page of study. He talks about God to his siblings, parents, and anyone else who will listen. He truly loves the Lord, and that has made him a good listener too. He listens for Gods leading, and he listens to people too. He hears the things that make them happy and hears the things that are bothering them. Then he helps out where he can. Being a good listener is a rare trait these days. So many people can only focus on the tings they want to say, and they don’t notice that they are making it impossible for others to speak at all. But Xander is a true listener, and he makes sure that Xander shootinghe understands what he hears too, so their are no misunderstandings.

Then, in his spare time, Xander loves sports, and anything that his dad is doing. He took hunter safety last year in preparation and anticipation of going hunting with his dad this year…and he can hardly wait. Having a hunting partner has been his dad’s dream too, and this year, both their dreams will come true. Xander is becoming a fine young man, and will always make his parents and family proud. He is also a great friend, and all of his friends enjoy spending time with him. What a great kid Xander is, and now he is moving up to the next level of greatness. Today, Xander is 12 years old. Happy birthday Xander!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Children of the HolocaustMany of the history books of today try to remove or minimize the Holocaust, and some people don’t even believe that it was real, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Holocaust took place between 1941 and 1945. In 1933, the Nazis came into power in Germany and they believed that the Germans were a superior race. They were completely against any people of different backgrounds…especially the Jewish people, who they felt were an inferior race, and were a danger to the German Racial Community. During the Holocaust, the Jewish people were systematicaly removed from their homes, made to be slaves, used for scientific experiments, and many died or were killed in the Gas Chambers.

On this day in 1942, a stunning 4,300 Jews are deported from the Polish town of Chelm to the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor, where all are gassed to death. Between 1942 and 1943, there were about 250,000 Jewish prisoners who lost their lives in the five gas chambers housed there. Then in October 1943, a Shoes from the Holocaustcamp revolt occurred…300 Jewish slave laborers rose up and killed several members of the SS…Schutzstaffel (German translation: “Protective Echelon), as well as Ukrainian guards. The rebels were killed as the battled against the guards or tried to escape. The remaining prisoners were executed the very next day. I can’t even begin to imagine what incredible bravery it took to even make such an attempt. They had no weapons with which to engage in a battle. They were simply fighting for their lives, knowing that they would most likely lose. It was better to fight and die, than to live this way.

Also on this day, the German firm IG Farbe set up a factory just outside Aushwitz in order to take full advantage of the Jewish slave laborers from the Auschwitz concentration camps. IG Farben was a German chemical industry conglomerate. Its name is taken from Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AktienGesellschaft which literally means “community of interests” of, in this case dye-making corporations. In addition to exploiting the Jewish slave labor for its oil and rubber production, IG Farben performed drug experiments on the slaves. Tens of Holocaust Survivorsthousands of the slaves would lose their lives to the brutal work conditions and savage treatment received from the guards. In the aftermath, several of the firm’s officials would be convicted of plunder, spoilage of property, forced slave labor, and inhumane treatment of civilians and prisoners of war. The firm went under Allied control for the purpose of completely dismantling it, because it was a threat, but as resolve weakened, the firm was eventually divided into three companies, Hoechst…a chemical and pharmaceutical company, Bayer…a company we all know, and BASF…Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik, also a chemical company. I suppose that one could say that in the end, some good came from these companies, but knowing their history tends to make it a little difficult to get past their origin, or their complete and total disregard for human life in the past.

RobbieAs every parent knows, all too well…kids will be kids, and my sister, Cheryl Masterson’s kids are no exception to that rule. Sometimes we wonder how any of our kids ever survived their own antics. Cheryl raised her family of five children as a single mom for most of their lives. Her daughter Chantel Balcerzak is not quite sure how her mother survived. And, maybe Cheryl isn’t either, if all of their antics were of this caliber.

Chantel tells me about one incident in which she, her sister, Toni Chase, and her brother, Rob Masterson decided that they wanted to skip school. They knew they would need a good reason to get their mother to agree to this. Well, they came up with a good reason to stay home alright!! My nephew, Rob was into skateboarding at the time, so they decided that if he wiped out and hit his head on a parking pylon, their mother would completely forget taking them to school, in order to take him to the hospital.Cheryl's family when they were young

Being what Chantel calls geniuses, they knew that proof would be needed, such as a bump on the head. Chantel is quite short…4’10” to be exact…so to accommodate that, Rob would need to bend over so she could administer the bump. He stood bravely, bent over at the waist, and waited for his older sister to club him. Chantel knew that no ordinary hit in the head would work, so she picked up a 36″ x 24″ wooden shelf that was about 1½” thick. Not knowing how hard she would need to hit him to create a bump of believable size, Chantel let him have it…full force. Of course, Rob was just flattened and hit the ground in a spread eagle position. Their sister, Toni immediately let out a blood curdling scream, and yelled, “You killed him!!!”

Toni, Chantel, Rob, & LizI don’t know if it was Toni’s screams or if the girls ran and got their mom, but needless to say, school went out the window for the day. Rob did wake up and he is just fine, but the emergency room was the next visit they made. As for the kids, they weren’t sure if skipping school had been worth this, or if it would have been better just to buck up and go to school. I’m sure this was not the last time they considered devising a plan to skip school, but in Chantel’s words, “Ironically, Rob never offered to let me hit him again.” No, I don’t suppose he did, unless that initial hit on the head rattled his brain more than first thought. It would take a crazy person to allow such a thing twice…wouldn’t it? Today is Rob’s birthday. Happy birthday Rob!! I would keep a close eye on your loving sister, if I were you. Have a great day!! We love you!!

Caryl ReedWhen I asked my niece, Andrea Beach about her thoughts on her mom, my sister, Caryl Reed, her first words were…”She is my hero!” During her children’s childhood, Caryl spent a lot of time as a single mom, while her ex-husband was in the Navy and often away on cruises for as much as a year at a time. Sometimes they were able to come home and spend that year here in Casper, but as the kids got older, moving from school to school wasn’t always easy, so she stayed in Oak Harbor, Washington, and later, Idaho Falls, Idaho. It was a big job, but one she did well, according to Andrea. Having one parent deployed is a tough situation to deal with for a kid, but it is one that was made less difficult for Andrea by her hero…her mom.

Young AndreaAndrea says that she is so impressed with her mother’s faith and her walk with God. She is Andrea’s inspiration and role model. Caryl has, as have we all, been raised in the church, and our walk with the Lord is the guiding light of our lives. We would not want to walk this Earth without God in our lives, because to walk without God is to truly walk alone.

Andrea told about the kind of role model her mother was. To Andrea, Caryl seemed a lot like Mary Poppins, because she was so sweet and pure. She always found a respectable way to handle situations, refusing to resort to things like cussing. Once when Andrea was being picked on, Caryl told her to tell those people to “keep their minds out of the gutter”, to which Andrea said, “That’s just what I told them.” Apparently, Caryl had mentioned that people should keep their minds out of the gutter before. That was part of the upbringing So Happymy sisters and I received from our parents. Cussing was not allowed in our home, and isn’t a part of our lives now either. Like our parents, we all feel like there are ways of expressing ourselves without resorting to cussing…and they were right. I still don’t think cussing is a necessary part of communication.

Caryl is blessed to be married to her best friend and the love of her life, Mike Reed. Andrea says, “They are madly in love and they are a perfect fit.” I think that is such a true statement. In her tribute, Andrea also correctly stated that Caryl “would do anything for her family and those she loves.” And that is a true statement too. Today is Caryl’s birthday. Happy birthday Caryl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

10999978_10205901001742846_7702417278737030242_nMy brother-in-law, Mike Stevens has been in the oilfield business for many years. He is a hard working man, who is often quiet, and so people sometimes wonder if he is mad or just doesn’t like them. His kids boyfriends and girlfriends can attest to that, but nothing could be further from the truth, when it comes to Mike. Mike is a man who firmly believes that life should not be taken too seriously. He likes to laugh, and he likes to have those around him be happy too. One of his favorite things growing up and probably still today was to prank his sisters. I’m sure their house was one filled with laughter, as Mike scared, teased, and joked with his sisters. And of course, I’m equally sure that there was as much payback as the sisters to muster up, because as we all know, if you don’t pay it back, then they get to have all the fun.

When it comes to games, sports, and playing, Mike has never, and will never grow up. In the years that he and 11137138_10205900999062779_2702085605747287943_nmy sister Alena have been married, there has always been Family Game Night. Every week the family would play board games and eat fun food, as a way to connect with each other and build a great family bond. Sometimes, instead of board games, they would go play miniature golf or go to the video arcades. Mike just loves games. He loves the competition, but in a healthy way…never making it something to get mad about, win or lose. It was the perfect way to teach sportsmanship to the family. My niece, Michelle tells me that she and her brother, Garrett are both quite competitive, but because of game night, they have been able to learn sportsmanship too. They love winning, but it’s not the end of the world to lose either, because someone else got to win. Lacey, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of her dad, in her quiet mannerisms, and I think she is probably the least competitive of the bunch, or maybe as the youngest, she just figured she didn’t stand much of a chance, with all that competition going on at their house.

Mike played basketball in school, and several other sports, including baseball at different times, and he loves to Alena and Mikewatch sports. Mike is what you would have to call a sports fanatic, and if Alena didn’t like sports, she would be the proverbial sports widow, but she doesn’t seem to mind it either. Mike loves games…I guess you got that…and he doesn’t care if it is golf with the family, basketball of television, going to the video arcade, or playing his favorite phone game, which for now anyway is Poker. He doesn’t want to spend his whole like slaving away at his job, or feeling all depressed about the tougher parts of life. He likes to laugh, and he thinks everyone should find something in life to laugh about…every day. And, I for one, have to agree. I’m going to do that…find something to laugh about. Today is Mike’s birthday. Have a silly, laughing, happy birthday Mike!! We love you!!

Collene Ione Byer & Allen Lewis Spencer wedding day July 18, 1953Yesterday, was one of the harder days of going through our parents’ things. Some of the most valuable possessions they had went to new homes. I don’t suppose everyone would find these items valuable, but to us they are priceless. The two old trunks that had belonged to Dad…his personal trunk and his military trunk, Mom’s wedding outfit and Dad’s wedding suit, Dad’s Army Air Forces dress uniform, his daily wear uniform, and his military coats, as well as his medals, and the Bible Mom carried at her wedding, all found new owners, and for some of the things, new homes. It felt really sad somehow, that these things wouldn’t be together anymore, but yet we also felt very blessed to receive the things we did, because they would now be treasured by a new generation of people. Our children and grandchildren will also get to see them, and hear the stories about the lives of their grandparents. The blessings are definitely there, but it still feels sad to separate the things forever. They have been in the same house for 56 years.Dad

The process of separating our parents’ things moves so fast sometimes that we don’t even think about taking the time to take pictures of these most precious items…until later. The good news is that they are not being sold, so we can will have other chances to get together, and the smaller items that should be grouped together could be brought together again. We also all have the ability to take pictures of those previous items and send them to each other. Nevertheless, the feeling that the order of things just isn’t right anymore, continue to persist. I know we all feel it, but I think maybe for my sister, Cheryl Masterson, it s just a little bit more pronounced. The home she has lived in for so much of her life, just doesn’t look quite the same as it always has. Of course, the things in the house are the least of the changes the house has seen in the last seven and a half years. The biggest and most painful change is that the people who always graced that house, our parents are gone now. The things in the house are Dad's Dress Uniform Hat and Medalssecondary to that loss, by a great distance, but nevertheless, they still feel like a loss.

I guess, the main reason that it feels somewhat right to divide up our parents’ things is that it is the only way that we can keep them close to each of us…their things that is. We each, always have Mom and Dad close to us in our hearts, but having their things around us…brings them just a little bit closer somehow. That is really the reason why people want their parents’ things…to make them feel closer to us. Each and every time we look at their things, their memory instantly appears, and that is, after all, the purpose of mementoes. For us, the sadness appears when we realize that the wedding dress and the wedding suit will live in different homes, the uniform and the medals won’t be together anymore. And eventually their home will take on a new appearance. It will be Cheryl’s home, and it will look like her home, and not Mom and Dad’s anymore. It is a sad reality that we all must face.

DadIn the United States, you don’t often expect to become friends with a Russian man, but that is exactly what happened with my dad, Allen Spencer. Dad was working at WOTCO in Casper at the time, and his friend, Vladimir worked there as well. For Vladimir, the United States was the epitome of the word freedom. He loved the United States, and as an immigrant, who loved the United States, he wanted to learn the language. He was working very hard on it when he and my dad met. Dad was excited about Vladimir too. He had never known anyone from Russia, and really, never expected to. He told Mom and my younger sister, Allyn Hadlock that there was a Russian man working with him and he wanted to learn Russian so he could talk to him.

Dad bought a Russian/English dictionary, and began to study it. He had some specific phrases he wanted to learn, such as, Hello, How are you, Do you like America, and Do you have a family. Every night they sat down at the table to work through the dictionary, figuring out what he would say next. They also learned that certain symbols, Russian Dictionary some that we use today, could mean something very different in Russian. The American symbol for “ok” is a good example. In Russian that symbol, with the circle of the thumb and forefinger, is a cuss word. It is very similar to flipping someone the bird. They laughed about that one. Then, when Dad wanted to say Dirty Rat, Allyn told him to use that American symbol for ok, because that should do it. That really got them laughing, and it still makes Allyn laugh to this day when she thinks about it.

I think the thing that Vladimir liked so much about my dad was the fact that he tried to learn Russian, and that he reached out to a foreigner too. Vladimir and his wife didn’t have very many people that he could visit with…at least not in Russian. He was just so pleased that Dad was actually learning Russian. I’m not saying that Dad was fluent at Russian. In fact, his Russian could be considered comical at times, but the main thing was that he tried. Dad and Vladimir became the best of friends, and mom and Vladimir’s wife were friends too. They were invited to dinner at Vladimir’s house, and his wife made Borscht. Borscht is a beet soup. Now, I have to tell you that Dad must have really felt a friendship with Vladimir, because Dad hated beets, but he ate that soup. They told Mom and Dad that in Russia the people didn’t have very much meat, so their meals consisted of potatoes and vegetables. They were able to buy more meat now Russian wordsthough, since coming to America, so when they had their American friends over for dinner, they bought meat for the Borscht…mostly because Americans are used to eating meat.

Vladimir and his wife wanted to be like the American people, because they loved this country. The did their very best to Americanize everything they did, because they wanted to be true Americans. This was the true melting pot…every foreigners dream, and they wanted to be a part of it. Dad and his Russian co-worker became good friends, and Vladimir always appreciated Dad’s efforts to make him feel at home in a new land.

Uncle Bill, Aunt Ruth, and Dad10592837_10203606798789446_4580093225917977156_n[1]Last night, while my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I were going through several boxes of our parents paperwork to prepare it for shredding, we came across a number of letters from different family members. I was drawn to some from my dad’s brother, William Spencer. One letter was written on March 5, 1990, and told a lot about the small town of Holyoke, Minnesota, where the family lived for a number of years. Uncle Bill talked of how the town was just a skeleton now, and so unlike its former self. I could read the sadness in his thoughts. Holyoke was a place that, in his childhood, had seemed larger than life. He knew every inch of it. He and my dad, their sister, Ruth, and their friends had dodged the trains, played ball, gone to school, fished the stream, and…well, lived life there. Uncle Bill was sad, because now, all that was changing.

Uncle Bill wrote of the passing of this friend, and that friend, as well as all the citizens, teachers, parents, and business owners who had lived in the little town of Holyoke. While the passing of the people he knew and loved was hard enough, the loss of the different buildings in the town was equally devastating to my dear Uncle Bill. I think the building that was the hardest for him to see go was the little church, which held the baptismal font that had been built in 1935 by Fritz Fredrick, who is the father of my cousins Gene and Dennis Fredrick. Fritz also did most of the cabinet work, too. It was very hard for Uncle Bill to think of that baptismal font being left to rot, so he bought it and gave it to one of Fritz’s sons. Uncle Bill writes about how sad it makes him to see the buildings delapitated and, in his words, forlorn. Nevertheless, he continues to be drawn to Holyoke because it feels like going home to him. He loves the people there, and loves to spend time visiting with them. Holyoke is and always will be a part of him…like it’s in his DNA.

Uncle Bill’s letter continues to draw me back to it in much the same way that Holyoke draws Uncle Bill back to 10342804_10203606793869323_3232942561128602595_n[1]10624963_10203606795149355_518549074166794281_n[1]it, because even if the feelings are raw and painful to a degree, it is harder not to make the trip than it is the deal with the feelings when you go back there. My mom, Collene Spencer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, my cousin Bill Spencer (Uncle Bill’s son), and I visited Holyoke this past August while we were back in Superior, Wisconsin, and I can completely understand how Uncle Bill feels about that place. I don’t recall having been there before, but like my Uncle Bill, Holyoke, Minnesota will continue to live in my heart. I guess that some places simply have that affect on you.

imageWhen most of us think of a space station, we think of the International Space Station that exists today, but in reality, that is not the first space station that ever floated above our atmosphere. The first one was a small space station called Skylab 1, The idea of a space station and crew to live and work in space was one that was tossed around for years. It was finally realized and launched into space on May 14, 1973, but this was not to be a mission without any issues.

Just 63 seconds into the launch, a meteoroid shield that was supposed to shelter Skylab accidentally opened. This put Skylab 1 at serious risk. Later the facility experienced communications problems with the antenna as a direct result of the launch incident. Nevertheless, as problems go, this was the least of the agency’s worries. “When the meteoroid shield ripped loose, it disturbed the mounting of workshop solar array wing No. 2 and caused it to partially deploy. The exhaust plume of the second stage retro-rockets impacted the partially deployed solar array and literally blew it into space,” NASA wrote.

NASA scrambled to stabilize the space station and take necessary measures to minimize the posibility of overheating, as well as, figuring out a way to handle its reduced power situation. The first crew, which was led by Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad, would need to make the station habitable before they could get to work. The crew’s first job, which took place during the spacewalk, just hours after launch, was to deploy the solar array, but that didn’t work, because the metal strip holding it is place, refused to release. The crews continued to be frustrated with this and other operations problems, before finally managing to make the space station work relatively well.

Skylab spent six years orbiting Earth until its decaying orbit caused it to re-enter the atmosphere. It scattered debris over the Indian Ocean and sparsely settled areas of Western Australia. In all, three crews successfully lived on board the station for several months each. The last crew spent 84 days in orbit. This was an an American record that stood until the shuttle era.

I’m sure that, looking back on those years now, NASA must have felt like it had been living in the stone age. With the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, going into space in earlier days was rather archaic. Of course, with the end of the Space Shuttle era, we don’t know what the face of space travel will be in the imagefuture. Only time will tell. Nevertheless, in 1973, we were well ahead of the rest of the world with the first space station, no matter how archaic it was.

Because of multiple problems experienced by Skylab 1, the space station’s orbit decayed faster than expected. This was mostly due to intense solar activity heating up Earth’s atmosphere. Soon, NASA knew that it was inevitable that the space station would come down. They adjusted the station as much as possible so it wouldn’t hit populated areas upon re-entering on July 11, 1979. A slight mathmatical error led to pieces falling in Australia, but fortunately nobody was hurt, and thankfully that was not the end of the space stations.