Amy & Corrie with gifts they made for Jessica Lynn Christmas 1984With Christmas fast approaching, I am reminded of the Christmas of 1984. With their cousin Jessica Hadlock Sawdon, arriving shortly before Christmas, my girls, Corrie Petersen and Amy Royce wanted to do something special for her…even though they didn’t know then if the baby was a boy or a girl. We could have gone and purchased a blanket, an outfit, or a toy, but so could anyone else. The girls wanted their gift to be different from what everyone else was going to give. They were learning to crochet, and so it was decided that Corrie would make a blanket and Amy would make a bonnet. They worked very hard on their gifts, and on Christmas morning, they proved to be a stunning success. My girls beamed with pride at how their gifts were received.

Chris and Allyn Hadlock with blanket made for Jessica by CorrieSo often, these days, Christmas has become so commercialized that it often isn’t about the gift given, but rather about just how much was spent on it, that seems to matter. But, on that Christmas, for my girls, it was about their gift being made with love. Every stitch they put in the blanket and bonnet was a learning experience for them, and they couldn’t wait to see what their Aunt Allyn and Uncle Chris Hadlock thought of the gifts they had worked so hard on. Needless to say, the blanket and bonnet were very happily received. Their gift was a huge success, and no one gave a thought to how much money was or was not spent on it.

There were a lot of gifst given that day, and I’m sure that many were wonderful, and very much appreciated, but I also know that my sister, her husband, and now Jessi all remember the gifts that were made and given with love by two little girls who loved their new cousin very Allyn Hadlock with bonnet made for Jessica by Amymuch, even though they did not know her yet and in fact, didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl. The things we do for people out of love, while not necessarily expensive, are often the most treasured of the many things we receive over the years. They can’t be measured in a monitary way, because they are indeed priceless.

As Christmas approaches, of course, the most important thing to remember is the reason for the season…Jesus…the Saviour of the world. Jesus was the greatest gift, but in today’s world, I think it is always a good idea to remember more than just the gifts we received, but rather the spirit in which they were given. Whenever we act in love, we give the greatest gift we could have given…ourselves. And that is priceless for sure.

Dad and MomBecause of my broken shoulder, and the fact that I am still taking an average on one pain pill a day, I can’t drive. My boss, Jim Stengel has been picking me up for work every day, and since I am back to work all day, and I can’t drive, I decided to take a walk during lunch. The cemetery is near my office, and so was a logical choice for a destination. As I walked, I took pictures of a large number of graves, because I am a member of the Find A Grave site that sets up memorials for people who have passed away, so their loved ones can add the information to family trees. That part of my walk was something that made me feel like I had accomplished something good, but it was something that happened a little later in the walk that I found to be so sweet that I had to share it.

During my walk, I stopped by my parents’ graves. I took a picture there, just because I often do. Maybe it’s to keep them close in my memory. I can’t really say. Then I straightened some of the flowers we have on their graves, and when I looked down, I noticed a nickel on the base of the headstone. There was no doubt in my mind where that nickel came from, because my niece Jenny Spethman, and her husband Steve often bring their children by to visit the grave of their baby sister, Laila, which is close by my parents’ grave. They never fail to stop at their great grandparents’ grave too. They loved them so much.

1374780_10200970626643807_1769404481_nIn the five years since their sister’s passing, Jenny and Steve’s children have come to the grave often, and since it is so close, they visit my parents’ graves too. During that time, I have seen so many gifts they have left for their great grandparents, whom they loved very much. They have left rocks, toy guns, cars, and now a nickel. There were many others too. They give the best of themselves. The things that mean the most to them, are the things that they want to share with their great grandparents. Our is a close family, and the great grandchildren were very close with their great grandparents. Loss is hard on everyone, but for the little kids, it is so much to accept. They often don’t exactly understand what happened…even when they know what death is, they still wonder when their loved one is coming home. Eventually they learn, especially when death becomes such a glaring reality, like the passing of their baby sister. Still, in their trusting heart, they know that their God has their loved ones, safe in His loving arms. To leave a gift on the headstone is another form of trust. They trust that God will tell their loved on about the gift they left, and about the love they feel for their loved one…forever.

imageSome would call that childlike innocence, believing in fairy tales, or even a child’s imagination, but I say that it is the faith of a child…unmarred by so many years of being told that God doesn’t do much in this day and age, that miracles are a thing of the past, or that we are on our own here. They are so close to God, that the world hasn’t had time to muddy the waters of their faith. They simply believe that their loving God cares about every little thing in their life, including the gift they wanted to give their great grandparents. Their faith is not spoiled by this world. They simply know that their God will tell their loved on that they love them…always and forever. That is the faith of a child, and it was so sweet for me to see. And all it took was a nickel left on a headstone.

Uncle Jim and Aunt DixieBonnie, Dixie, and SandyOver the years, my Aunt Dixie Richards has taken care of her grandchildren while her daughters and their husbands worked. Having done some babysitting for my kids, before and sometimes after school, I can attest to just how rewarding it is to play such an integral part in the upbringing of your grandchildren. It may not be that you are their disciplinarian or anything, but more than likely, their spoiler. Nevertheless, they will always know just how very much you love them. The relationship that develops from that time, that is so fleeting, will last a lifetime. I can’t think of another more amazing thing to do, aside maybe from raising your own children.

Aunt Dixie has the kind of heart that is perfect for caring for children. She has a gentle, loving spirit, and nurturing ways. It is easy to see that her grandchildren love her and their grandpa, my Uncle Jim dearly. They are very close to them, because they have spent time with them. That is a gift that not all grandchildren get to receive, and I find it very sad when they don’t, as do I’m sure, their grandparents, because grandparents know the value of being close to their grandchildren. Aunt Dixie has grandsons named Jacob Liegman, Gabe Williams, Gideon Williams, Noah Williams, and Jonah Williams (who lives in Heaven), but finally she was blessed with a granddaughter named Mayme Williams. Nevertheless, she loves each and every one of them.

Aunt Dixie was the eighth in a family in nine children, and because of the age difference between Aunt Dixie being born in 1943 and my Aunt Evelyn being born in 1928, the younger children were almost like a separate family. Add to that, the fact that the family had three daughters, a son, a daughter, a son, and three 11923207_1034484853252684_2593545910487408495_na11745538_1018708074830362_6157017772407383499_nadaughters, Aunt Dixie got to almost experience the middle child syndrome. I don’t think it was a negative thing back then, however. She was the middle of the younger three daughters. My mom, Collene Spencer was actually the middle child, being that girl between the two boys, but Aunt Dixie got to experience it a little bit too, as did Aunt Virginia, who was the middle of the older three daughters. It is an interesting position to be in, but not as interesting as being a grandmother, I’m sure. Today is Aunt Dixie’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Dixie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

scan0110New TVsLet’s face it…we all love getting presents. Maybe it’s the excitement of finally seeing what it is, or maybe we kind of knew what we were getting anyway, but now we actually have it. Whatever the excitement is for you, you have to admit that you love getting presents. I think it all starts about the time that you are old enough to realize what those things in that toy box are used for, and then suddenly to connect that with the fact that once you tear off the paper on that box you are given, you will find a toy to add to your collection. For a kid that is among the greatest things that could possibly happen to you. I mean, toys are the best…right?

Then, came the day when you were give the inevitable gift of…clothes, for your birthday or Christmas!!! Your first thought was, “How lame is this!!” You might have even got a little bit annoyed, sad, or just downright mad. Of course, I seriously doubt if your parents were very happy with you…especially if you opened the gift in front a bunch of friends or family members, and then got mad. Parents tend to think your rudeness is not so special. Still, for many kids, getting clothes is the ultimate bummer. They know they need them, and really they like the clothes they get, but clothes just don’t qualify as a present!! It should be the number one rule of gift buying and giving. Don’t parents know this? I mean, they were kids once too…right? And if the kids are little enough, suddenly, the reality completely sinks in…their parents were never kids!!! Otherwise, they would know that you never buy clothes for a gift for a kid…never!!

Now, I know that as adults many of us have even requested clothes as a gift, but even then, you have to admit that the thrill of getting a gift can be lacking…just a little bit, when the gift is clothes. It doesn’t mean that you Wow!! Clothesscan0129don’t like the clothes. And I’m sure my girls and dad really did like them. In fact, I know that they all really liked the clothes they got!! Could it have been just a bad picture that revealed a face that was lacking in joy…you know, that, “wait!! I wasn’t ready” moment. At the very least, in the case of my dad, who would never have made mom think he didn’t like her gift, and as I said, he did. I know he did, because he wore that suit a lot. We all remember him in that one. So at least for him, I suspect it was a poorly timed picture. Nevertheless, the look on his face still strongly resembles that “clothes…really!!” look.

Corrie, Barry, & Amy in new pjsKids at ChristmasAs Christmas arrives, I am reminded of so many Christmases from the past. As a kid, I think the earliest memory I have of Christmas was the big celebration we always had when decorating the tree. The day we decorated the tree became a family party. We made snacks and played Christmas music. We sang Christmas carols, laughed, and munched. We always had a real tree in those days, because artificial trees didn’t exist, as far as I know. That meant that the first part of the evening was spent with my dad cutting the trunk of the tree to remove any unneeded height. The fragrance of the spruce tree filled the air. It was an incredible scent, and one that I still love to this day. The real tree lives in the past for my family now, and I can’t say that I’m totally sorry about that, because they are messy, and a fire hazard. I will take the trade off, and the fragrance of the spruce tree will have to live in my memory files.

Christmas eve was another family night, with singing, and of course, the one gift that we Alaskan ornament 2Alaskan ornament 1got to open that night…our new pajamas. I’m sure that was to add a nice fresh touch to the Christmas morning pictures, but it didn’t matter, because we loved getting those pajamas…and the excitement if opening just one gift on Christmas Eve was what it was all about anyway. These days with my children grown up, I’m not the one to give pajamas, although, we did it when our girls were little. Now they always know that at Grandma’s house, they will receive an ornament, so what is the mystery in that. Well, it is what kind of ornament, of course. I try very hard to be creative with those, and I think I did great this year. We had gone to Alaska on a cruise this past summer, and the kids all received an Alaskan ornament. I was so excited about those, that I had to get one of my own.

Christmas day always brought excitement and awe. It didn’t matter what you got, it was just so exciting to open the long anticipated gifts to see what you got. It always seemed that at this time of year, people were listening carefully so they could hear what you wanted, and then they headed out to get it and surprise you with it. 000_0016000_0031My favorite years were the ones where we got something extra special for my parents. It was amazing to surprise them with something they never expected that we could afford…like the toaster we got them when I was the only one with a job. The rest of the gifts were hand made. They were so shocked. Then there was the year that we were sending them on an Alaskan cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary. We got them a video camera for the trip. They were so excited. Yep, I think the best Christmases are the ones where you give amazing gifts. It is about giving rather than receiving. I guess that was how God felt too. After all, He gave us the greatest gift of all…Jesus. And that is the greatest Throwback Christmas of them all. Merry Christmas everyone and may the greatest blessings God has to offer be yours this Christmas and all year long.

Caryn Sue Spencer abt June 1956 editedCheryl getting ready to kiss CarynToday is my birthday. The last few days, I have been reflecting on my birthday, and my dad’s birthday just two days before mine, and how much I miss him, and what my parents mean to me. Your parents give you so much, as a baby. They supply everything you need, like food clothing, warmth, love…eveything. But before that, there was something more they did. It was something even greater…the greatest gift. They gave you life. How do you thank them for that? Oh, I know, my parents had me and my sisters, because they wanted a family, but it was their desire for a family that gave me life. It was likely something they gave little thought to…that this was a gift to me, but that is exactly what if feels like to me. The greatest gift.
Grandpa, Grandma, Caryn, Allen, and Cheryl_editedCollene, Cheryl, Hattie, Caryn, and George
When I arrived I was nurtured by my mom and dad. When I came home, I met my sister Cheryl, who loved me very much. Like me, she had been given the greatest gift our parents could give us…the gift of life. Because we lived so far away from my mom’s family then, my grandparents made the trip from Casper, Wyoming to Superior, Wisconsin to visit us, and share in the joy of our growing little family. Cheryl and I felt so blessed to have the happiest life there could possibly be. She and I played in our little world, mostly just the two of us, but also with our cousin, Pam, for the next three years in Superior, Wisconsin.

Our family moved back to Casper, where my sister, Caryl was added to our family, 3 years Caryn Schulenberg, Alena Stevens, Caryn Reed, Cheryl Masterson, Collene Spencer, Allyn Hadlock, Allen Spencerafter I was born. Then two years later, Alena, and two years after that, Allyn. Each of us had been given the same greatest gift from our parents. And along with that greatest gift, they had also given us another second greatest gift…the gift of siblings. My parents and my sisters have always been so dear to me. Our family has always been very close, and as it continues to grow, more and more blessings are added. With each new family member, by birth or by marriage, the greatest gift, keeps on giving. So today, on the anniversary of my birth, I want to thank my parents for giving me life. Your gift was so precious and loving…the greatest gift…ever.


Dad and LizIf there is one thing I can say about my niece, Liz, it is that she loves sports. In fact, there was a time she considered becoming a sportscaster. And she would have been a great one too, because I don’t know of anyone who knows more about their teams than Liz. And, I’m pretty sure she she keeps up with all the other teams too. Liz was a big sports fan, when everyone thought girls didn’t like sports…or was it just that girls were closet sports fans.

Liz is a fan of the Denver Broncos, which was something she was proud to share with her grandpa, my dad. Of course he wasn’t the only one who shared her love of the Broncos, but he was the one who was the most important to Liz. They shared a love of the Denver Broncos and the New York Yankees. It created a special kind of bond between them that no one else had. When the subject came around to either team and they were both in the room, it was their conversation, and no one else’s. That was never something any of us were jealous about. We all thought it was wonderful that Dad had someone who was so knowledgeable about sports to talk sports with. It was heartwarming to watch that, because as the dad of daughters and only 4 grandsons, there weren’t a lot of sports minded people around him. Liz was one person who understood the games, and could talk intelligently about it with my dad, and that was a greater gift than Liz can possibly know.
I know that I certainly couldn’t do that, because until the Broncos went to their first Super Bowl, I liked the Broncos, but only in passing. And while I watch the Super Bowl every year, and I’m still a Die Hard Broncos Fan, I don’t watch much football on a weekly basis. Liz on the other hand watches the Denver Broncos, The Denver Nuggets, the New York Yankees, the Wyoming Cowboys, and of course, every game that Kelly Walsh plays…and those were just the ones I know of. There are many ways to describe Liz, but none so well as Grandpa’s Favorite Sports Fan. Today is Liz’s birthday. Happy birthday Liz!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!

My sister-in-law, Brenda has been a part of my life since she was 10 years old, and my sister-in-law since she was 11 years old. She has always been a sweet girl, who was kind and loving. Her loyalty to those she loves is unsurpassed. During the time that her parents have been ill, she has been someone we can count on to be there to help in any way she can. She is one of our village, and she is invaluable. She has dealt with some pretty tough things, and she knows how hard it is on a person.

Brenda is more than just a sister-in-law to me…she is a friend. She cares about me. Recently, when we had a birthday party for me, my daughter Corrie said that part of my gift was to go to lunch at Mongolian Grill. With the events lately concerning my in-laws, I was not really sure when we might be able to go to lunch. A little more than a week had passed, and I was too busy to think about the planned lunch date with my daughter. Brenda, however, didn’t forget. She was going to take a couple of days vacation, and she planned the daily lunchtime duties into her vacation days, in order to allow me time to go with Corrie. It was such an incredible thing to do…and one I will not forget!! Sometimes my days are very full with caregiver duties, and it makes me feel very loved when someone steps up and does something so nice for me. Brenda is the kind of person who looks for ways to help out and make life easier.

In some families, the longer you are part of the family, the more distant people become. They move away, and come home once every 5 years, or they live in the same town and you hardly see them, but not so with Brenda. She has stuck with the village during some of the toughest times we have gone through. She can always be counted on to do whatever she is able to make our journey a success. We are up against health issues and of course, time. We know that at some point the journey will end. All we can do is try our very hardest to hold that day at bay for as long as possible. Team members like Brenda are extremely important to that goal.

Today is Brenda’s birthday. I want to wish her the very best birthday she has ever had. She has been so good to me, and I can’t tell her how much that means. Happy birthday Brenda!! We love you very much!! Have a wonderful day!!

Bob and I had always felt that our kids didn’t really need a phone in their room, and for the early years, they didn’t have one. But, when our girls reached the pre-teen years, we decided that since the phone was always for them, and having them talk, talk, talking in the living room made it really hard to watch television, maybe having a phone in their rooms wasn’t such a horrible idea after all. The constant chatter and loud laughter was hard to ignore…not to mention having the girls constantly telling everyone not to listen!!

So, along about the time they were 11 or 12, we decided that Christmas would bring a rather unexpected gift for our girls. We were going to get them phones for their rooms. Of course, there would not be a separate line, but there would be some peace and quiet in the living room. For the most part it brought peace to our home…sort of. There were times when one or the other of the girls took too long in their turn on the phone, and then we would have a few fights. Still, the moments of fighting were a small sacrifice compared to the hours of peace that fell in between. I will never forget the look on my girls’ faces that Christmas morning. They couldn’t believe that they could talk in their bedrooms and not have everyone listening to every word they said.

Much has changed since those days. Pretty much every child has their own cell phone these days…and their own phone number…and it is more important than many people would like to think. A cell phone can be a life line if their car breaks down, or they missed their bus, etc. I know of many parents who don’t think their child needs a cell phone, and that they are a distraction. In some ways, that is right…especially if they are using it during class, but a child walking home alone, who gets lost or is being followed…needs a phone…now!!

I am grateful that my girls have continued the tradition and that their children each have a cell phone. It’s nice to be able to get a hold of my grandchildren whenever I want to. Of course, today things are different. Phones are used in a completely different way…texting. And if you want to keep up, you have to be able to text. I personally like texting, because it allows you to go on doing what you were doing while you are waiting to hear back. And cameras on the phone can be fun and functional too.

Yes, much has changed since my girls’ first phones, but kids haven’t changed. They still get excited about that new phone, and just the fact that it is theirs. They still want the latest and the greatest technology. And what is cool today, will be old news tomorrow. As excited as my girls were with their new phones that Christmas morning so many years ago, today they would wonder if I had lost my mind, because I would be giving them an antique that would be viewed as worthless.

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.