As I was thinking about my niece, Chantel Balcerzak, my thoughts turned to just how sweet and caring she is. I knew what my feeling were concerning my niece, but I thought maybe it would be nice to hear things from a different perspective. I asked my grandniece, and Chantel’s daughter for some of her memories. I was not disappointed.
Siara Olsen, who is Chantel’s youngest child, told me that, as with many kids, one of the best parts about school for her, were the field trips the classes get to go on. All the students in the class got to bring a lunch from home to have for the trip. Chantel always made sure that their lunches on those days were special. She would get Lunchables, chips, and their favorite candy. These might have been things they wouldn’t have had otherwise, but Chantel wanted to make it special. I think Siara, and her brother Jake Harman would tell you that it was more than what was in the lunch, that made it special, it was the love she put into it too.
Chantel was a single mom for part of her children’s lives, and she didn’t want them to feel like they had missed out of time with their mom and the memories that would create, so on what became special nights, Chantel would declare that they were going to have a “Carpet Picnic.” The kids got to pick out their favorite junk foods like, Pigs in a Blanket, Totino’s pizza, and Wheat Thins with Cream Cheese. Chantel laid out a blanket on the floor, set out the food, and they ate dinner, while watching a special movie they had picked out. The memories of those picnics will stay with the kid all their lives, because, of the love she put into the evening.
Because Chantel was a single mom, the kids spend time each year with their dad in Louisiana. That was a hard time for Chantel, because she dearly loved her kids, and hated to be away from them. One year, she had a great idea. Just so you know, Chantel is an artist, and her work is great. So that year, when the kids came home from Louisiana, both of their bedrooms had been completely transformed. Chantel had decorated Siara’s room in a princess theme, and Jake’s room was dragons and knives. Siara tells me that they were amazing. I can imagine, because I have things in my home that Chantel has painted, so I know her talents. Still, when it came to her kids, well it was more than the paint, curtains, and decorations…it was the love their mom put into this sweet gift for their homecoming.
Like many in our family, the Black Hills is a special destination. We all love to go there, and many of us go every year. Chantel’s family is one of those for whom the annual 4th of July trip to South Dakota is a must. The family goes camping, and sight seeing, because as anyone who loves the Black Hills knows, you never see it all over there. Chantel cooked all the best foods on the campfire and everyone ate their fill. Then, Chantel and her husband Dave, paid the way for all of them to head over to the water park! Like everything that Chantel does, these trips were not just about going somewhere, they were about being with her beloved family, because it really is about how much she loves them.
Siara told me that she could go on and on about her mom, because she is her very best friend, and I know that is true. They are very much two of a kind. Chantel is a wonderful person, and she has dedicated her life to her family. Today is Chantel’s birthday. Happy birthday Chantel!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
In the years when my kids were in elementary school, every kid in probably 4th or 5th grade got to take a field trip to Guernsey, Wyoming to see the Oregon Trail ruts located there. I don’t know if that is a field trip the schools take anymore, but they did then. Of course, I had seen the Oregon Trail many times before, because my parents loved showing us the history all around us, including stopping at just about every place where the Oregon Trail crossed the highway on our travels. Still, I did not recall seeing the ruts located at Guernsey before, so as a parent who got to go along, it was quite a treat. I was fascinated by the fact that those wagons could make ruts in the rocks. So many of the areas of the Oregon Trail are just a path, or you can’t even tell it’s trail. You just know that it’s where the trail is because of the marker. But there, in the rocks near Guernsey, years after the Oregon Trail was in use, the ruts remain.
The Oregon Trail is a 2,170 mile wagon route trail that meandered from the Missouri River to Oregon. It was first laid by fur traders and trappers from about 1811 to 1840. During those years, it was only passable on foot or by horseback. Then by 1836, the wagon trains began to head from Independence, Missouri to places in the west. The trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho by then. As time went on, the trail was cleared all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. These days, the trail crosses our highways in many places, and markers have been placed so the travelers can learn a little history of the trail and what might have happened at each part of it. At the time my parents were showing us all those markers, my sisters and I usually groaned about stopping yet again, at another of the endless Oregon Trail markers that, at that time, we dreaded being forced to read all about. These days, when I think back, I can appreciate the things they tried to show us in this great nation of ours. And I can appreciate the ruts in the rocks outside of Guernsey that have endured for 184 years.
Sixty years ago today, my dad married my mom. If Dad was alive today, we would be planning on a party to celebrate the event. It makes me sad that they didn’t get to reach their 60th anniversary together. I remember that just 10 short years ago, we were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and soon after they left on the Alaskan cruise that we gave them. It was the trip of a lifetime for them, and one they never forgot. It made us all feel really good…to know that they had such a wonderful time. I am so glad we gave them that trip. They had always wanted to go, and now, looking back, and knowing that just 4 short years later, Dad would be gone, it was like a last chance that we didn’t know about.
We spoke to them several times during their trip. It’s funny that two people who weren’t sure that they wanted to go on a cruise without making it a family trip, were the same two people who didn’t want that trip to end. I can understand that. Although they would have had an amazing time on the trip if we all could have gone along, they nevertheless had a love of travel, and found the places they saw to be exciting and fun. Their natural curiosity would have quickly removed any disappointment at going on the trip alone. They were like a couple of kids on a very cool field trip. When I asked them, as their trip was nearing its end, if they were ready for it to be over, they told me, “No.” I knew they would feel that way from my own experience following our 25th anniversary cruise.
My sisters and I have always felt very honored to have the parents that God gave to us. We were raised in a stable, Christian home filled with lots of love and the very best values. We were taught teamwork and mutual respect. We were taught to forgive and to set aside anger, for the greater gift of love. I couldn’t have asked to be a part of a better, more loving family, or to have better parents. Today is my parents 60th anniversary. Though Dad is in Heaven, Mom has never married another man. Theirs was a once in a lifetime kind of love that would last forever. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!! We love you both so very much!!