Friends

Super Bowl 50This year’s Super Bowl game will the historic 50th Super Bowl. That’s a milestone by any standard. That made me start thinking about the origins of the Super Bowl. Now I’m sure that most men can tell me all about it, but let me see if I can tell them something they didn’t know. The Super Bowl is the championship game played annually between the AFC (American Football Conference) and the NFC (National Football Conference). It must be played at a different stadium each year. As most of us know, it is the most watched professional sports event in the United States. The Super Bowl even draws the football widows in to watch the game…and the Super Bowl is the game that sometimes, as in my case, turns a football widow into a football fan. It has been likened to a national holiday. The half-time show is performed by popular musicians and singers and the only day in which more food is consumed…is Thanksgiving. I’m sure many of you knew or could guess all that.

So, what brought on the need for a Super Bowl in the first place? It was a result of the NFL (National Football League) merging with the AFL (American Football League). The NFL fought for dominance in the professional Devner Broncos helmetsport, fending off several professional leagues, including the AFL. The fierce competition for players finally led to merger talks in 1966. On June 8, 1966, the merger was announced, the winner of each league’s champion would meet in a final game to determine the world champions. Of course, that game would need a name. AFL founder and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt jokingly referred to the proposed game as the Super Bowl, after watching a group of kids play with a toy called a Super Ball. The name was consistent with college “bowl” games, and became the permanent name of the football championship game.

Since the first two Super Bowl games were completely dominated by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, there were doubts as to whether or not the AFL was an inferior league. All that changed the third year when the AFL’s New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The following year, another AFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs won the game against the Minnesota Vikings to put the two leagues at a tie for games won. Super Bowl IV was the last championship played between the two leagues. After that the two sides were called the AFC (American Football Conference) and the NFC (National Football Conference), but the championship game would Panthers helmetcontinue. The trophy that is given to the winning team at the Super Bowl is called the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named after the coach of the Green Bay Packers who won those first two Super Bowl games. It was first given to the Baltimore Colts at Super Bowl V.

This year’s Super Bowl game will be held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The teams playing are the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. That makes it especially exciting for me, because the Broncos are my team. The Panthers are good team too. This game could prove to be a nail biter, so hold onto your seat…the game is on!! By the way…did I tell you something you didn’t know before?

Jim StengelNot everyone can say that they truly have the best job on Earth. I know that lots of people think they do, but I can name so many ways that they, if they thought about it from my perspective, would have to admit that they just don’t. For most people, going to work means getting there on time, doing your job, and going home at quitting time. Loving your job sometimes falls into this mix, and sometimes it just doesn’t, for the sad truth is that millions of people really hate their job. They know that they could find a better one, but they just don’t know where to start, or they don’t have the training, or the job market is just so poor that they don’t dare try to look somewhere else right now.

For the last 19 years I can honestly say that I have been extremely blessed to have the job I do, with the boss I have. It’s easy for me to use the term boss, because in reality Jim Stengel is nothing like a boss…in fact, he is the epitome of the un-boss. He doesn’t even like the word boss…choosing rather to call his employees, associates, and glaring at the person who forgets and calls him boss. It’s his way of reminding us that he doesn’t like the “B” word. Jim tells us about his dad’s way of looking at it. Jim Stengel Sr was the owner of Dakota Granite, and it was his belief that if you hire the best people for the job, and let them do their job without micro managing them, they will do their very best for you, and be happy in the process. I think he was on to something there.

One of the best reasons that I have to say that Jim is the greatest person to work for, is that he knows how to keep the priorities straight. Over my ten years as a caregiver, I have had to put that theory to the test. Lots of bosses tell you that family comes first, but if you need time off to go take care of someone in the family, they aren’t so happy to accommodate that time off. Apparently, it’s ok make family your top priority, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your job. Not so with Jim. During the times when my caregiving duties required me to miss quite a bit of work, he didn’t complain, and that made me want to work even harder for him when I was there. Both my family and Bob’s family are fully aware of the huge debt of gratitude we all owe Jim, and for that reason they have virtually adopted him as a son in the family. Not only that, but they keep him in their prayers. We can never repay that debt, and if you ask Jim, he would tell you that we don’t owe him a thing…Jim & Juliebut that’s just him being kind, because we really do. Had he not given me the time off I needed, even at a moments notice, to take care of a parent or sister-in-law who needed my help, I don’t know what we would have done.

Jim will try to blow this off as being what any boss would do, but we all know that isn’t so. Most bosses expect you to put in your full hours, and find someone else to take care of things when you are working. That is no easy task, as any caregiver will tell you. Jim is a one of a kind…the un-boss, and we who have the privilege of working for him understand just how very blessed we are by him. Today is Jim’s birthday. Happy birthday Jim!! Have a great day!! We love you and are proud to call you…friend!!

Roller SkatesAs a kid, going to the roller skating rink was not always an option. Nevertheless, we all loved to skate. Not being able to go to the skating rink all the time didn’t bother us, nor did the uneven sidewalk in front of our house. We learned to overcome those obstacles, because we loved to skate. I suppose it was that age old desire to have wheels to take you where you wanted to go, without having to depend on your parents to get you there…or maybe it was just because it was a lot of fun. The skates I had as a kid were not the fancy ones with the shoe built onto it, because…well our shoe size was always changing. It made no sense to buy new ones every year. That was simply an unnecessary expense.

Wearing SkatesOf course, the problem with those skates that could grow, was that you needed a key to change the length and the width of the skate to fit your shoes. Since feet didn’t grow that fast, it might be a while between the times you needed to change the size, by the time you needed it again, the key was nowhere to be found. This was such a big problem, in fact, that at one point someone came up with a song about two kids…one who had the skates, and one who had the key. It made for a good partnership…or maybe it was just necessity that they become friends. Either way, having a skate key made one a valuable friend to anyone who had skates and no key.

I think if the inventor of the skates had given any thought to it, he might have figured out a different way to do the size changes, or at the very least, put in a place to store the key, so that if it was lost, it would truly be Skate Keythe fault of the child, and not just the fact that the key had no safe storage place to be. Of course, in all reality, the skating years were pretty short lived. All too soon, we were on to the next great toy or the next cool set of wheels…such as the skateboard. Once those came out, kids who were still using skates were considered babies…until Inline Skates came out. Then the ones who still had four wheeled skates or even skateboards were considered babies, who couldn’t balance on two wheeled skates…until trick skateboarding came along. Before long, that old pair of four wheeled skates and their corresponding key, were no longer the latest thing…and no one wanted them anyway, so the key no longer mattered.

Thanksgiving DinnerAs Thanksgiving approached this year, I found myself thinking of the things I’m thankful for. Of course, I’m thankful first and foremost for my loving Heavenly Father. He is always there for me. He will never leave me nor forsake me. How could I possibly ask for more than to have a God who cares deeply about every little tiny part of my life. No human cares that much, not even those who love me with all their hearts, because…well humans just don’t have a love so deep and unconditional.

While this year will find half of my family here and half in Washington, it will feel very lonely, but what I really care about is that my family is all happy, healthy, safe, and sound. And I hope they have a wonderful Thanksgiving too, even though we will miss them very much. I think the holidays are the hardest time to be apart, because the rest of the time work and activities keep you busy and you can forget that they are so far away, but the holidays…well, they are just different. The holidays are all about family. Maybe next year we can be together for one of the holidays. That would be really nice. For now, I am thankful that all of Amy’s family is together for this Thanksgiving holiday. And I’m lonely and sad because of the empty chairs we will have at our table this year.

And this will be the first Thanksgiving with both of my parents in Heaven, and that is very hard for my sisters, and our families. Yet, we are still thankful that our parents are together with other loved ones who have gone to Heaven too. I am so thankful that our parents brought is up to know the Lord, and to know the comfort of knowing where they are now and that they are safe in the loving arms of our Heavenly father. While we will Thanksgiving dinnermiss them terribly today, as we do every day, and the empty chairs that they would have occupied will make us lonely, we know that they are celebrating with us, because they celebrate God’s love with thanksgiving every day, as do we. We will also be missing my father-in-law, and in reality my mother-in-law, who is in a nursing home. For Bob’s siblings, the loneliness is the same as my sisters and me, the empty chairs speak volumes, if we will listen.

Still, not all things about this day will be sad and lonely, because last month, right after I broke my shoulder, I was so blessed when Bob and I were “adopted” into my son-in-law, Kevin Petersen’s family. His parents, Becky and Duane Skelton invited us to spend Thanksgiving as part of their family. Kevin’s parents have been friends of ours for a long time, and it was just such a wonderful thing to do. I don’t think I was ready to try to put on a Thanksgiving dinner. By Christmas, I expect that I will be much more ready, when I host Bob’s family, but for now, I am very thankful for the kindness of such amazing friends. I love both of them very much, and I look forward to the memories we will have of this day.

Lastly, but in no way the least, I am thankful for new and renewed family connections. Over the past couple of years, we have reconnected with cousins that we haven’t seen in quite some time and some we had never met, which has expanded our family in areas that were lacking before. It is so wonderful to have such a large family, Becky & Duaneand to have the opportunity to get to know these cousins that we never knew. They are all such wonderful people with so many different interests and life stories, and yet, we are all connected in the deepest of ways…we are family. And that is definitely something to be thankful for.

While this Thanksgiving is filled with mixed emotions for me and my family, I am truly thankful for every day of life, for every member of my family, for each friend, for job, home, and the beauty of God’s creation here one Earth. And I am thankful that when this life is over, I too will live forever in the loving arms of my Father in Heaven. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!! Have a blessed day!!

Dad and MomI think most people have heard the Bible verse, John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” People may not realize that this is a Bible verse, but they know what they thought was an old saying. Either way, the verse was talking about Jesus dying on the cross to save the world from it’s sin, but I don’t think that was all it was about. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but when my pastor was preaching a couple of weeks ago, this verse was part of his sermon. Of course, he talked about Jesus sacrifice, but suddenly something jumped out in my mind. This verse was about far more than Jesus sacrifice, or it wouldn’t have talked about the greater love a person can have if they choose to lay down their life for their friend. It was about how we are all supposed to be.

It was at that moment that a thought came to me. There is more than one way to “lay down your life.” Of Joann and Waltcourse, the verse meant to die for your friend, and many is the hero who has done that, but it occurred to me that dying is not the only way to lay down your life for someone. In fact, caregivers lay down their life all the time. They set aside their normal life activities, and take the time to take care of another person. I’m not trying to blow my own horn, but rather I want to talk about all of the many caregivers I know of and those I don’t, because their sacrifice is amazing. The patient they care for, would be in a nursing home, were it not for the loving kindness shown to them by a friend or family member who laid down their own life to give that time to another. It is one of the greatest showings of love there is, and it is also very rewarding for the caregiver, although sometimes it is sad too. For just a little bit of time, almost always a relatively short lived little bit of time, at least in the grand scheme of time, you have the chance to be the wind beneath their wings…the one who holds them up and cares for their needs…the one who had the privilege to lay down their own life to care for a loved one.
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Yes, greater love hath no man, than that a man lay down his life for his friend…to actually die for his friend, but there is another way that is just as wonderful, and just as loving…to lay down your own needs, desires, activities, time…to care for another human being who desperately needs your help. So here’s to all the Caregivers I know, and to all those that I don’t know. You truly are among the greatest of people on Earth, because you have make a sacrifice that shows the ultimate amount of love you had for your loved one. It makes me proud to be a part of such an elite, amazing group of people. Today is National Family Caregiver Day, and I hope it is an amazing day for all of you.

1908338_10201360299764609_2677605985421931183_n10629691_10202096841617695_5380123168372700253_nSome birthdays come and go without a lot of fanfare, but others come with a reminder of the blessings we have, and the things we could have lost. This year, for my niece, Kelli Schulenberg, hers is a birthday filled with reasons to be thankful. The recent fire that could have destroyed her home, also could have taken the life of her beloved dog, Dakota. While she was waiting to hear of the fate of her house, and the wellbeing of her dog, I had a chance to talk with, encourage, and pray with Kelli about the whole situation. Of course, her mind was filled with worry, but she showed a strength that told me that no matter what the outcome, she and my nephew Barry would pull through.

With Kelli’s birthday coming so close to Thanksgiving, I’m sure that there have been a number of years where her reasons for being thankful have mingled with her birthday wishes, but I doubt if any other year has brought that more into perspective than this year. When you come close to losing your home, your pet, and all of your cherished memories, it really serves as a reminder to be thankful for all God has given you, and all that He protected for you. Kelli and Barry’s home and their dog were spared, and they both know the feeling of thankfulness for that precious gift. The did lose some wood and trees, a trailer and a shed, but these were things that, while still a loss, can be replaced with much more ease than a home and less pain than a pet. Nevertheless, they were a loss.

But, as with most things we are thankful for, the best are the gifts given in our time of need. That certainly was the case for Kelli and Barry, when their family and friends came together to cut up more wood than they originally had. With the winter months set now with enough wood to keep their home warm and cozy, Kelli finds herself with yet another reason to be thankful the year, both on her birthday and Thanksgiving.

Some birthdays are a little bit sad, because we feel older now, or a loved one isn’t with us, but Helping Hands 611147851_10206482351516467_8264778001766904420_nI think that on this birthday, Kelli will not be thinking about the passing years, but rather about the blessings she has been given, especially in this past year. So much of her life could have been very different, had it not been for the prayers of friends and family, the hard work she and Barry had done to make sure their home had a good fire break around it, and the help of family and friends to give back the things lost. And of course, she is thankful to still have her dog, Dakota, thanks to the kindness of friends who made sure he was ok. Today is Kelli’s birthday. Happy birthday Kelli!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Cheryl getting ready to kiss CarynSistersWhen I arrived…the second child in our family, I came home to not only my parents, but to my first friend…my sister, Cheryl Masterson. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t been there. I know that sound silly, but when you are the younger sister, that older sister is pretty special. For a little kid, just starting out, it’s great to have an older sister and friend there to show you the ropes. She had hard job of navigating the rules of the household, and now she could tell me how things are supposed to go, and what you really don’t want to try, because it will get you in trouble. Of course, as a baby and even into my first year, I didn’t get into much trouble, but I’m pretty sure I made up for it later on.

Of course, it wasn’t just having Cheryl show me how things were in our house that made that homecoming, and the subsequent years so special, but rather, the wonderful friendship we had as kids, and still have to this day. I know that my sister would give her right arm for me, because she is such a loving and giving person. I can always count on her to be there for me, and help me with anything she can, and I’m sure she knows that I feel the same way about her too. I have been blessed with four wonderful sisters, all of whom I love dearly, but Cheryl was the first one, and the leader of our little group of sisters. She as also the cool one, in my opinion. She always seemed to have it all together, and somehow I just didn’t. Maybe it was just the teenaged awkwardness, but my sister never seemed to go through it, so I looked up to her in her coolness.

I love that she and I shared those early childhood years. We were able to explore the wonder of the world around us together, and see all the sights our backyard had to offer. And then, because our parents liked to go sight seeing, we got to explore the sights of our home in Superior, Wisconsin. That was something our younger sisters never really got to do in the same way, because all were born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Cheryl and I got to see a little bit of how our lives might have been different had we stayed in Wisconsin, when we visited our family there in August of 2014, and while our lives are here in Casper now, we both loved the area scan0002 scan0038around Lake Superior. I guess it still felt like home to us, because it was where our roots are.

I think I am a very blessed sister to have the sisters I have, and that I was very blessed indeed, to have my sister Cheryl to come home to when I was born. You can’t pick your family…it’s true, but I know that if I could have, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing, because mine is the greatest family in the world. I know that may not be what other people think, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

12072826_10206482356716597_9173719914773473680_n11147851_10206482351516467_8264778001766904420_nOn October 11, 2015, a wildfire devastated a large area north of Casper, including the area where my nephew, Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli live. While their house was not one that was damaged, they did not escape unscathed. They lost a shed with some lawn equipment in it, fifteen or more trees, a flatbed trailer, and about eight cords of wood, which was enough to heat their home for the coming winter, just to name a few of the things. While insurance will reimburse them for some of the loss, it will not cover all of it, nor will it even begin to reimburse them for the many hours spent cutting all that wood the first time. And the hardest thing to get back…peace of mind.

People would call them lucky, that so much of their property was spared, but I don’t really think anyone who lost anything in that fire, that took 10,000 acres, 12 homes, a number of animals, and several other structures, considers themselves lucky…except that they made it out alive. I still don’t consider that luck. I believe it was the prayers of the people of Casper and others around the nation that kept the loss to the relative minimum that it ended up being, compared to other large fires.Helping Hands 1Helping Hands 6

In the aftermath, many people have donated money and other needed items to those who suffered loss that dreadful day, and many will continue to do so. There is no way for me to talk about them all, but they know how much the people who they have helped appreciated it. Help after a loss never goes unnoticed. It is a show of love, kindness, and compassion that can never be repaid. People helping people…the giving spirit. It is what people do for those in need.

As for Barry and Kelli Schulenberg, a special family and friends benefit took place yesterday, when a dozen people converged on my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Ron and Rachel Schulenberg’s place, where thankfully, Barry and Kelli still had some wood, waiting to be cut. Those dozen people spent most of the day cutting, loading, and unloading the ten cords of wood, that now sits where the first eight cords had been at Barry and Kelli’s place. I know that they already feel much better about the coming winter, because without all that wood, it would have been a much more expensive winter in the heating department.

Helping Hands 5Helping Hands 4The things that Barry, Kelli, and the other fire victims lost in the fire will at least partially be replaced, but the thing you can’t put a value on is the helping hands of the people who stepped up to help you rebuild your life. The fire victims lost a lot of things, but things can be replaced. Nevertheless, cleanup, replanting, re-cutting of wood, and so many other things that had to be done after a fire, take time and effort. I have to give a lot of credit to anyone who helped to put the lives of the fire victims back together. The kindness of those helping hands was a blessing that will never be forgotten.

Dad with B-17G BomberMany times I have written about my Dad’s time in the war, and what he went through, but I’m not sure I truly understood what he went through. Dad never talked about the war much, and maybe that led us to believe that what he went through wasn’t so bad for him. In reality, I don’t think I knew much about Dad’s service time at all. My nephew loaned me a movie called Fortress, and I was very interested in watching it. I don’t know what I expected it to be, but it was not. Everything on the B-17 happened so very fast.

While the movie was quite graphic, and not one that some people would like to watch, it was based on a true story and it gave me a very different perspective about what it was like to fly in a B-17 Bomber. I knew that the life of a ball turret gunner in combat was a mere twenty minutes, and I knew that during the time Dad was on the B-17, there was at least one ball turret gunner who was killed. They tried to save him, but it was not to be. In an instant it was over.
Flak seen from inside of B-17 Bomber
The Flying Fortress, as the B-17 Bomber was called, was one of the safer parts of the war, but that meant nothing when you are flying to a bomb drop and the enemy doesn’t want you to make it. The movie brought home just how hard it was to really spot the enemy planes. They would say that the enemy was right there, and I found myself thinking, “Where?” Then suddenly there they were, and the men on the plane had been firing for several seconds already. It felt like trying to explain how to spot the enemy, and by the time you get the word “well” out, you have already been hit.

While any gunner position was dangerous, I was struck by how exposed the waist gunners were. In case you don’t know, the waist gunners are the guys that shoot out the side doors of the plane. The doors are open, leaving them with very little protection. They had to be on their toes, because the enemy was shooting for their gun, and if they weren’t paying attention, they were shot before they got a second chance to pay attention. That made things really hard, because they also felt a close commraderie with their partner, the other waist Dad looking at B-17G Bombergunner, and if their partner got shot, it was hard to stay on task…but that was hard for any one of the men on the plane.

Watching the men they worked with every day, get shot and killed became a normal thing. Being normal and being able to cope, are two very different things. These men had to hold it together, while quietly falling apart inside. They knew their friend was dead, and yet they had to do their job. They couldn’t grieve. They couldn’t stop. They had to push that picture of their dead friend way back inside themselves, and do their job. Lives depended on it…including their own. I knew that my dad was on a B-17, but until I watched that movie, I really didn’t understand all of what that meant.

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.

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