When I think back on my childhood days, flying a kite ranked right up there with cool things to do, although I wasn’t much good at it. When my grandchildren were little and our friend, Dani was babysitting for my girls, she used to take the kids, and her kids to all kinds of events. She was amazing with the kids. She would take 5 to 6 kids to these events, and everyone would have a great time and stay together. On this particular day, Dani took the kids to an event that included flying a kite. My grandson, Christopher, had a wonderful time, but I’m not too sure how much kite flying really went on.

Sometimes all a guy really needs is a little bit of help, right. So Dani stepped in to see if she could help him get his kite in the air. I don’t know if that helped or not, but the kids always had so much fun with Dani, that it didn’t matter. He was a kid floating on air, because he was outside, having the time of his life flying a kite. Running as fast as his little legs would carry him. Feeling the wind in his face…the freedom to run…to fly…at least to fly the kite. Christopher was like most boys. A good day was being outside playing and enjoying the sunshine, the warmth, and yes, even the wind, because when you’re a kid a windy day didn’t mean being grouchy because you hate the wind, it meant that today was a good day to go fly a kite.

I suppose that if Chris had been as tall then as he is now, he wouldn’t have had any trouble getting his kite in the air. It seems like the kite is bigger than he is, but he is giving it the old college try. He has always been that way. He hates to give up.  Of course, judging from the pictures, there wasn’t a lot of wind here that day…how did that happen anyway…and that didn’t help to get his kite in the air. The good news is that on a day like this, it doesn’t matter much. For a kid, going anywhere to play is a really good day, because what is flying a kite about anyway…playing, right! It’s about being a kid on a lazy summer day with nothing to do but go fly a kite.

For my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, my sisters and I decided to send them on an Alaskan cruise. They had always wanted to go to Alaska, and we decided to make that happen for them in 2003, a decision we were glad we made, especially in light of my dad’s passing in 2007. We presented the gift to them at their 50th Anniversary Party, and they were…well stunned doesn’t totally describe it, but it will do. They were not sure they wanted to go on a cruise without at least some of us kids for company, but we convinced them that they would have a wonderful time, and so finally they agreed to go.

They made all their plans for the tours they would take while on the cruise, and we researched all the places they would want to go on their free time. They felt ready and very excited. It was the kind of adventure they had never really considered for themselves, but as the reality of it sank in, I’m sure they wondered why they hadn’t thought of it themselves. Life on a cruise ship, for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to go, is amazing!! There is so much to do and see, tons of food to eat, and people to meet, and it’s already paid for, so you have very little financial things to think about.

That said, you would also have to know my mother to truly grasp the full meaning of the rest of my story. Mom can’t take a trip without bringing back some gift for her kids, and a trip like this one would mean souveniers for kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. It’s a good thing my dad always just let her have her way about this stuff…or maybe it came from years of fighting a losing battle, and finally giving up. On one of their stops, Ketchikan, I believe, they took the afternoon to go shopping for those souveniers. They had a great time strolling through the town, looking for novel items to bring back to their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids.

It was getting late, and they really needed to head back to the boat, because as any experienced cruiser knows, the ship waits for no man…no matter what. The challenge my dad had was making my mom understand that the ship would not wait. She kept saying, “In a minute…just a minute…I’m almost done.” By the time Dad finally got Mom headed back to the ship, they had their hands full of bags, and their ship was the last one at the dock. And the worst part…they only had a few minutes to get there. It looked like it was going to be a lost cause as they walked as fast as they could to get to their ship…but a man operating a bike taxi cab came along and saved the day…bringing them to their ship with mere moments to spare, and avoiding an Alaskan Fiasco.

After his graduation from high school, my brother-in-law, Ron, decided to join the Army. His plan was pretty much to spend just the three years necessary to pay for his college education, but after he was honorably discharged and back home, the Persian Gulf War began in 1990, and he would be recalled into active service to fight over there for a time. It was a hard time for our family. The concern over his safety as a boots on the ground soldier, was very hard to take. You always hope you don’t have to send a loved one into war, but he served with honor and returned to us healthy and in one piece, so we were very thankful.

I remember when Ron was leaving, we had a get together to say good bye, and we took many pictures to keep him close to us in spirit, and tried to keep it light for Ron’s sake. One picture that I especially loved was of Ron with his 4 nieces…Uncle Ron’s Girls. He was not so many years older than my own daughters or nieces and nephew, that he totally felt like an uncle, but rather  like an older brother. We spent a lot of time out at their house when my girls, Corrie and Amy were little, so they were very close to their uncle, as were my nieces Machelle and Susan.

I suppose, that is why the girls all hated to see him leave so badly. They were, maybe, too young to fully grasp what it meant to be at war, but they understood what it meant to have their uncle move away. It was like tearing a part of their heart out. We all felt the same way, but everyone had to put on a brave face and a smile, because he had to go and there was nothing we could do to stop that.

It has been about 21 years since Ron first went away to war, and he is a successful mechanic, happily married to a wonderful girl, who we all love, with 3 children, a son-in-law, and a new grandson. We are very proud of his accomplishments and especially proud of his service to his country. As far as his “girls” are concerned…well, they still think the world of their uncle who still seems more like an older brother than an uncle, and they will always be Uncle Ron’s Girls.

I know many of you think this story is about a stock market crash, but this is a story about a different kind of crash. Bicycle helmets are a relatively new item, that was unheard of when I was a kid. They first began making them in about 1975, but weren’t very protective, They began improving them in the mid 80’s, but were rarely used. That said, it is safe to say that my girls grew up, just like their parents, not using a helmet when riding a bike. We weren’t considered negligent at that time. That was the way everyone rode their bicycle.

It was the summer of 1986, and almost the end of June. My daughter, Corrie would turn 11 on June 30th, a birthday she shared with her great grandmother. Like most kids, in the summertime, Corrie’s mode of transportation was her bicycle. We lived out in the country, and the road in front of our house was not a busy street, so my girls and their friends rode their bicycles there for hours each day. A few days before Corrie’s birthday, I was in the house while the kids played outside. Suddenly, I heard a blood curdling scream, and then another smaller scream. I ran outside, to find Corrie’s friend running to get me, tears streaming down her face, yelling, “Corrie wrecked her bike!!”

I ran out to Corrie, to find her bleeding from her face, and I don’t mean her nose. The scrape looked really bad, but I could tell that it would not need stitches. I did think there was a definite possibility that she would have a scar on her face. My heart sank. I hated to think of her having a scar for life. I prayed inwardly, so I wouldn’t scare her, and asked God to please heal her face without a scar. Since she hit her face, I watched for all the usual signs of concussion, but nothing ever came of that. Nevertheless, she was very upset. She was horrified that she would look awful on her birthday and in the pictures that would be taken…typical of a soon to be 11 year old girl.

She survived the horror of having her picture taked with a scab on her face, and her face healed with no scarring, for which I praise God. The birthday party went on, in spite of the scab, and this story has a happy ending, but the moral of the story is this: To avoid your own crash story like this one, I recommend that you and your kids wear a bicycle helmet. While it won’t necessarily save you from the crash, it might save your face from the scabs and scars.

Loosing the baby teeth. It is a rite of passage. The move from being a baby to being a big kid. Most kids lose a couple of teeth at a time, and maybe 4,  Too many teeth lost at the same time can make eating somewhat difficult. I remember teasing my girls, and then the grandkids about having to eat baby food, since they lost their teeth. They would always roll their eyes, and say “Mommmmm!!” or “Grandmaaaa!!” I’d just laugh. They always knew I was teasing, but they liked the teasing just the same. It brought attention to the gaping hole in their mouths, and made them feel special.

Most of the time these little toothless moments caused very few problems, but in 2005, when Josh was 7, losing teeth took on a little bit different direction…to say the very least. Josh lost a couple of teeth, and then two more before those could come back in, and then, two more!! He had so many teeth missing, that it truly became difficult to eat anything besides soft foods. I suppose it was a good thing that Josh liked foods like macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs. Otherwise, he might have starved, and since he has always been a slender kid, it wouldn’t have taken too long. My teasing about baby food, seemed to have come true. Not that it would have been a bad thing either, since baby food comes is some pretty good dessert flavors, anyway.

Nevertheless, Josh does look a little bit concerned in this picture, so I have to wonder what he is worried about. If I know Josh, it has to do with some food he might not be able to eat, but that could be pretty much anything from granola bars to apples. More likely he was just making a face. That’s how Josh is. He can make some of the funniest faces, and have some of the goofiest smiles, but truly, no smile can really top this one. There are so many teeth missing…that this smile is practically gums only.

Of course, at 7 years old, there is one more possible reason for Josh’s face.He may have been wondering if somehow he was different than most kids. He might have thought that this rite of passage had gone a little wrong somehow…like would his teeth ever come back…would he be able to eat real food again??? For Josh, that could be a big concern, because he really likes to eat. And I don’t think baby food is exactly what he had in mind. Thankfully, this rite of passage soon passed, and Josh has his new teeth…Whew!!!

Everyone hopes that the marriages in their family will last forever, but sadly that is not always the way things work out. Bob’s grandparents on his dad’s side divorced when his dad was about 5, I believe and for many years, Bob’s dad would have nothing to do with his real dad. In fact, Bob would be a grown man with two daughters of his own before we would know anything more than that his grandpa was the sheriff of Forsyth, Montana for many years before he retired. The one thing we did know is that if your last name was Schulenberg in Forsyth, Montana, they knew who you were related to…the sheriff. He was a much loved sheriff for a long time.

My father-in-law finally reconnected with his dad at a family reunion about 1980. We went to the family reunion the next time, and my girls were able to meet their great grandpa for the first time. We knew about the hard feelings from the past, but my father-in-law had decided to put that all behind him and be friends with his dad, so we felt comfortable getting to know him, knowing that we would not be hurting my father-in-law’s feelings.

The years had changed him from the man who could not seem to get along with grandma, to a much more mellow person…someone who maybe realized what he had missed out on through those many years of no contact. Bob and his family had visited Forsyth many times after moving to Wyoming, but the kids would not have known their grandpa if they saw him on the street…unless he was in uniform of course, but Bob doesn’t recall ever meeting him.

Grandpa would pass away before we got a chance to see him again, and much about him remains a mystery to us. We know that he remarried after the divorce, and had another son, who has stayed in contact with my father-in-law, and is a very nice man. We know that during his retirement years he made wooden lawn chairs, and he gave one to each of his great granddaughters. It will be the only thing they will have to remember him by…other than a couple of pictures. It is sad that so much of their heritage is lost to them, but that is the way it goes sometimes in a divorce. I will always be grateful that we had the chance to meet him, even if it was only once.

I was thinking about something my Aunt Sandy said to me a while back about talking to my mom about the old stories before it is too late…before she forgets them, or before she were to go home to be with the Lord. Then I was listening to some tapes by Jesse Duplantis, while on a long drive to and from Denver for a class these past couple of days. Jesse Duplantis talks about a minister, or evangelist being a gift from God placed in your life to be a blessing…to get God’s word out to you. That got me thinking abut the other gifts in our lives…our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Early in our lives these people nurture us, teach us how to grow up, take care of our physical needs, and our emotional needs. They might babysit us, or later, let us spend the night. They are role models for us, to teach us right from wrong, and social etiquette. We learn our early sense of style from them…at least until we are old enough to want our own style. We get our early religious training from them, whether it is to go to church or not, it usually comes from the adults around us. There are so many characteristics, that can be traced back for our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

They do all these things for us and yet all too often we think of them as outdated, behind the times…especially in technological matters, annoying, interfering, and…well, anything but a gift. And yet, that is exactly what they are, and we get to have them for a very short time…too short. Just ask anyone who has lost their parent or parents, and see how they feel about them now. Do they regret that they didn’t spend enough time with them? Yes, because no matter how much time you spent, it wasn’t enough. If I could spend one more day with my Dad, would I do it? Absolutely, and I would treasure it…you have no idea how much I would treasure it, but I can’t. That gift is no longer here, but sometimes in thinking about the gift I have lost, I forget to see the gifts that are still in front of me. Sometimes, I see them as more of a job than a gift. Most of you know that I am a caregiver for my mom and my mother and father-in-law. Sometimes, I let myself lose site of the purpose of that caregiving…which is to keep the gifts in my life, in my life for a little longer. Do yourself a favor, and see the gifts in your life…cherish them…and as my Aunt Sandy would tell you talk to them about all the stories of their past…your heritage, that only they can tell you, and once they are gone, the stories are gone too. Whatever you do in life…cherish the gifts you have been given.

My grandson, Caalab, has always had a thing for the older woman. Practically from the time he was born, he had made up his mind that he was going to marry his mom’s best friend, Carina. We all figured that it would be a passing phase, since many little boys love older girls, and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they “oooo and awww” around the lucky kid and do all the things they do to make them smile and laugh, thereby letting the little boy know that they are just the coolest thing ever. And maybe those girls are right about that, but then again, maybe I’m biased. I do think I have the coolest, handsomest grandsons ever, and the coolest and prettiest granddaugter ever.

As he got older, it became obvious that Caalab wasn’t really changing his mind about Carina. He was pretty gone on her, and in fact, when she was about to get married, we had to let Andy, her fiance know in no uncertain terms that he would not only have to get Caalab’s ok, but when the time came for Caalab to marry Carina, Andy would have to step aside…and just be a man about it too. As they years have gone by, Caalab had determined that it wouldn’t really be fair to Andy, to ask him to step aside, especially now that Carina and Andy have a son, and a boy really needs to have both mom and dad around if possible, so he has turned his focus on other older women.

Caalab’s dad, Travis, is the announcer for the local Roller Derby Girls, so Caalab gets to go to the derbies quite often, and I don’t know if it is just because he is so cute, or what, but here he is again, cozying up to the older woman…and receiving a kiss for his efforts and cuteness. But, as he has gotten older himself, he is still keeping his options open. He isn’t just limiting himself to one older woman. He likes them all. From his mom’s friends, to roller derby girls, to beauty queens. If he can cozy up to a pretty girl, he will do it. And I suppose one can’t really blame him for noticing a pretty girl. And the good news is that as he gets older, the older woman seems to get younger.

How well I remember the visits to Bob’s grandparents house in Forsyth, Montana. We used to go there every year for a visit. A lot of the visit revolved around the kitchen, where Grandma always seemed to be busily cooking up something. From that first cup of coffee in the morning with real cream from the cows they milked, and fresh eggs that she went out and gathered herself, toast and real butter, to the jellies and pies and cakes she made, everything just tasted different there…special. I suppose it was because of the fact that it was all farm fresh, and not store bought, but I think it was the love that it was made with too.

We loved going out to that old house, even though it was a bit of a drive to be sure. They owned a lot of land…I’m not just sure how much, but it was a big ranch, so the drive out to the house took some time. You could see the highway from their front yard, but it was a long way off. Mostly they owned everything as far as the eye could see. I remember sleeping in the bedrooms upstairs where they raised their children, Bob’s aunts and uncles. The rooms still looked like they did when the kids were living there, complete with the pictures they had on their dressers. It was like stepping back into time, for a little while.

But the best times were spent in the kitchen. We would play cards, for as long as Grandpa (Walt, who was Bob’s step grandpa, but never felt like it to us) could keep the game going, or Grandma would call it a day. Grandpa could play cards all day if she would let him, but she has other things she needed to do. She was always busy in that kitchen. I often wondered if she was so busy because we were there, or if that was always how she was. Of course, when we were there, my girls and I would help out, which they really enjoyed. Funny how your kids enjoy helping out at someone else’s house, but will do anything to get out of work at your own house. She just made it feel like fun, I guess. The girls always felt special at Grandma’s table too, because she had these old pans, that looked like a camping skillet, that the kids got to eat out of. I suppose most people would laugh at that, but there isn’t a one of the grandchildren that didn’t get to use them, nor one that doesn’t love those old pans.

I have been thinking a lot about that old house, and the treasured memories I have from there, and wishing that those days weren’t in the past now. Grandma and Grandpa have gone home to be with the Lord, and while I miss them a lot, they will always live on in my memories…especially the ones in Grandma’s kitchen.

In a world that gets busier by the moment, it is hard to keep up with your close friends, much less your aunts, uncles, and cousins, who you don’t hang out with on a regular basis. So, every year my mom’s family has a family picnic in the summer. That and the annual family Christmas party provide a chance to reconnect with an ever growing family. Since her family is quite large and most of us still live in the Casper, Wyoming area, the turn out is usually pretty large. There were a lot of people who were not there this year, but it could easily pass for a small company picnic without stretching the imagination too far.

My mom and her siblings are getting older now, and some of them have trouble getting around. They don’t get together as often as they would like, because it is harder for them. So, the annual family picnic is a nice way for them to spend some time together, and for their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids to enjoy the time as well. They sit around and talk about the old days…about those who have gone home before us and about their memories of them. And get to know the new babies who have joined our family.

This year, thanks to Facebook, where I have connected with a number of my cousins grown and teenaged kids, I knew more of the kids better than ever before. They are a great bunch of kids, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. It is a rare thing, I think, to know the children and grandchildren of your cousins pretty well, especially in a family that numbers over 300, but I can say that I do. And I feel very blessed to know them.

I have been to many of these family picnics. And many are spent asking who this or that new person is, but this time I knew…I knew them, and their kids. I suppose that many people would think this an odd statement, because we all live in the same town, but when you really think about it, do you know your cousins kids and grandkids well? If you are like most families, probably not.

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