BR two years agoTwo years seems like such a long time in many ways, but in others, it is no time at all. Two years ago today, my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg was in the midst of a medical crisis. She went into the hospital with Congestive Heart Failure, Cellulitis, and Severe Sleep Apnea. She was in a lot of trouble. Her future looked very grim. Brenda had a big decision to make, and she had to make that decision for herself, because no one could do it for her. Brenda either had to lose weight…a lot of weight, or she was not going to live much longer.

Believe it or not, most people would have given up at that point, but Brenda isn’t most people. She decided that 50 years was not enough to call a full life. She wanted more. Nevertheless, the task of losing the weight and actually getting in shape seemed daunting. To really get into the kind of shape she needed to, Brenda would need to lose about 340+ pounds. Of course, part of that was going to be skin in the end, but it would take at least 340 pounds to get to a good weight for her 5’3″ frame. Nevertheless, losing the weight was only going to be part of the transition for Brenda.

In order to be healthy and keep the weight off, Brenda was going to have to get some activity into her life. The logical activity was one that a number of her family members love to do…hiking. For Brenda, the hike began indoors at Sunrise Shopping Center. That first hike was a short one, because it took everything she had in her to do it. Using a walker, and stopping frequently, she made that first hike. The short indoor hike using a walker is far in Brenda’s past now. These days, Brenda loves to hike Casper Mountain, with the Bridle Trail at the top of the list. Two years ago, the Bridle Trail seemed an impossible dream, but no more. The Bridle Trail is one that Brenda now hikes often.

One of the things that Brenda was told is that at some point, she will not look at activity as exercise, but as fun activity. I know that she never thought that day would come either, but these days, exercise is a thought that is far in Brenda’s past, and activity is what she does now. Brenda has become an inspiration to many people, BR after two yearswho have begun to follow in her footsteps now. She has decided to try to become a mentor to others who are in the position she was in. She wants to let people know that they can change their life, and all it really takes in the first step.

Today, as Brenda celebrates two years of really living, she will celebrate with a hike…of course. A group of her friends and family will hike the Bridle Trail. I have to wonder what Brenda is thinking about this years hike. What had seemed like an impossible dream is now a possible reality. Looking back and reflecting on all she has done, and just how far she has come, one realizes just what an amazing accomplishment this has been. For anyone who thinks they can’t do this, I recommend that you ask my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg what she thinks about that. I can tell you, without a doubt that she would tell you to focus on the finish line, and never give up. The impossible is possible, but only if you don’t quit. The only way to fail to reach your goal is to quit. Congratulations Brenda!! You have come a long way, and the future is bright now. Never quit, and you will always be strong and healthy. We love you!!

19250_102234259806044_4460089_nSometimes in life, you find that something is just meant to be. This is a story of just that…something that was meant to be. A while back, my niece Lacey Stevens introduced her brother, Garrett Stevens to a friend of hers, Kayla Smiley. That was the first step in a journey that for Garrett and Kayla would lead to happily ever after. They became engaged in a romantic setting in the Big Horn Mountains, with the involvement of her family, in which Garrett popped the question on the top of a hill while the fmily was taking pictures. Kayla had no idea. Good job Garrett.

For the rest of the family, this relationship has been a bit unusual, in that Kayla lived right next door to our mom’s house. I suppose that many people would feel like that could be a bit awkward, but not Kayla and Garrett. In fact, it was there that Kayla’s true self was shown to all of us. Kayla is a very caring person. She gives of herself easily, and that was exactly what we needed at that time in our lives. During Mom’s last couple of years, there were a times when an ambulance had to be called, because she was having some occasional bronchial issues. That is such a stressful thing for the children, especially when one child, in this case, my sister, Cheryl Masterson had to be there by herself at the time the ambulance needed to be called. Kayla, the instant she heard the ambulance, came right over to see what she could do to help, and if for no other reason, just to be there and be supportive to me sister, my mom, and to me as well. If you have never been in the position of needing to call an ambulance for your parent, you simply can’t know how devastating that feels. You find yourself forced to watch the proceedings, and there is nothing you can do to help. All too often, the emergency workers are so focused on their patient…as it should be, but they have no Garrett & Kaylatime to see you standing there quietly falling apart. Kayla…and Garrett too, while they were as worried as we were, came to support us as we went through this horrible ordeal. That is a kindness that can never be forgotten, much less repaid.

We knew that Garrett had found a gem of a girl, and so when he called to say they were engaged, it was with much joy that we congratulated them. They are both such sweet, loving people, and I know that their life together will be blessed in so many ways. God will repay their kindness with joy and love for years to come. I am so excited for them. Today is Kayla’s birthday. Kayla we just don’t know what we would do without you in our lives. Happy birthday Kayla!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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!!

What a Special Person my Sister-in-law Caryn is!

Guest Writer BRCaryn became part of our family on March 1, 1975…40 years ago this year!!! Little did I know at that time that Caryn would become such an important part of the Schulenberg Family. I don’t really remember too much of my life without Caryn being a part of it. She has been a major part of our family for so many years now…and I would never want to imagine our family with her not a part of it.

In the early years, Caryn spent most of her time raising her two girls, my nieces, Corrie and Amy. Then, before we knew it along came her four grandchildren my great nieces and nephews, Chris, Shai, Caalab and Josh. All of them are true gifts to Caryn. She really enjoys being a Mother and Grandma….and maybe someday soon (I hope not too soon) a Great Grandma! In August, Caryn’s oldest Grandson Chris moved to Sheridan to go to Culinary School and boy that was a tough adjustment for all of his family. Luckily Sheridan is not too far away but it is still hard. Caryn’s youngest daughter Amy, husband Travis and son Caalab will be moving to Washington State very soon and this too is going to be very hard for Caryn and the rest of us. We know that it will be a great adventure for them….but it is so hard when someone we love moves so far away….but maybe someday they will be back to stay!

A few years back when Caryn’s dad, Al Spencer suddenly became very sick she became an instant caregiver to him. She had help from her mom, Collene and her sisters Cheryl, Caryl, Alena, and Allyn along with all of their children and grandchildren. It took all of them. They all then became caregivers for Caryn’s mom, Collene Spencer when she was ill during the years. On February 22, 2015 Caryn’s mom went to Heaven. While I know Caryn and her sisters are missing her, they know that Collene is truly in a better place now.

Caryn was the lead caregiver to my parents, Walt and Joann Schulenberg. She had help from myself and my siblings, Bob, Jennifer, Debbie, and Ron along with my nieces and nephews, Corrie, Amy, Machelle, Susan, Barry, JD, Eric, Riley, and Tucker, all of the great nieces and nephews and my Aunt Margee Kountz and her granddaughter Staci. Everyone helped when they could, in any way they could even if it was just to stop by or call for a visit…but we could not have kept either one of my parents at home as long as we did without Caryn. She was their primary caregiver and didn’t bat an eye about doing it. She is still helping with my Mom by checking on her out at Shepherd of the Valley Care Center, going to all of her doctor appointments with her and keeping all of us up to date as to how she is doing.

In October 2013 when I got sick…who did I call first? Of course, I called Caryn. She convinced me that I need to get checked out to see what was wrong. Little did I know then that Caryn saved my life. I truly believe that if she had not talked me into going to the hospital that I would have died very soon. She has been with me all the way…from going to the hospital, to my rehab at Elkhorn Rehabilitation Hospital and then once I was home she would do whatever I needed help with. She slept in a recliner chair the night that I had my sleep study done because I couldn’t get my legs up into the bed on my own. She stayed with me my first two nights home from Elkhorn because she didn’t think I should stay alone…I was grateful to have her there with me because I had nurses, aids and therapists with me 24/7 for almost a month. Caryn and my sister Jennifer…and my entire family, friends and coworkers have all been very supportive during my 18 month recovery and weight loss journey. I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Caryn will be traveling with me to Fort Collins next week to see a doctor about my skin removal surgery…and when I have it done in Fort Collins or even here in Casper she will be there with me through all of it and I know she will be very helpful to me during my recovery too.

Caryn - 12-02-2011_editedI don’t even want to think of what the past several years would have been like for either Caryn’s family or my family if it hadn’t been for Caryn and her dedication of her time and her heart to care for all four aging parents and myself. We couldn’t have and wouldn’t have wanted to go through any of this without Caryn.

Caryn is an amazing woman! She is one of the best Sisters-in-law (I consider her my Sister) that I could ever ask for and I know that my Parents felt the same way…she was and is one great Daughter-in-law.

Today is Caryn’s birthday and I just want to say Happy Birthday Caryn. We all love you and appreciate you very, very much!!!!

Dad at the hospital to visit Mom

My dad passed away on December 12, 2007, but since my mom was still alive, we never really went through his things…until after her passing on February 22, 2015. Mom had given out some of Dad’s things to different family members, but the bulk of his things would wait until her passing to be given to those who would receive them.

In his later years, my dad got cold often. That can happen as we age, or with surgeries to the chest or abdomen, which dad had to repair damage from Pancreatitis. More and more often, Dad could be seen wearing a sweater, and it really became a signature item for him. One sweater in particular that he wore almost daily, was a multi-shade blue striped sweater. He wore it so often, that it is one of the ways I picture him in my mind. I had asked Mom for that sweater shortly after Dad passed away, and was told I could have it, but did not receive it until now.

This was the sweater that Dad had on when he and Mom danced their last New Years Eve dance on January 1, 2007, just under a year before his passing. It was also the sweater he wore on his visits to the hospital when Mom was receiving Chemotherapy treatments for the Lymphoma Brain Tumor that she would beat in 2007. The blue sweater became synonymous of Dad…in my mind anyway.

There are many things that remind me of my dad. Anything World War II, of course, because I have written so much about his time in the war, and because we have toured the B-17s several times together, making the B-17 an integral part of my memories of my dad. Then, there are the funny memories of Dad, that always come to my mind…things like the whisker rub, our many debates, pretending to box with him, the Oregon Trail The Final New Years Dance - Jan 1, 2007markers, the many vacations, and of course, the swatting games he played with the grandkids, will always bring back great memories of my dad. All of those things bring images of my dad and what an amazing man he was, but they are not things I can hold in my hands, and picture him if I use them. The blue sweater is.

Memories are the most precious things we have once a parent has passed, and I treasure every memory I have of my dad, as I do my mom, and there are things that will always remind me of them. And one of those things will always be that blue sweater. Today would have been my dad’s 91st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. Have a wonderful celebration. We love and miss you both very much.

reaganWhen a United States president is assassinated, it sends shock waves around the world. When one is shot and lives, it sends waves of shock too…and then relief. I was a little girl when John F Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22, 1963, and I will never forget where I was when I found out about it. At the tender age of just seven years, I don’t really think that I fully understood the gravity of the situation. When President Ronald Regan was shot in the chest, on March 30, 1981, I was a married twenty five year old mother of two daughters, and I fully understood the gravity of the situation, and how it could have affected our nation and the world. It was however, the reason he was shot that totally baffled me. I mean, I know what John Hinkley Jr’s deranged reasons were, but it still made no sense to me…especially that he would think that somehow he would win Jodie Foster’s love by shooting the president. I suppose that is simply how the deranged mind works.

In the years that the United States has been a nation, sixteen assassination attempts on our presidents. Of those, there have been four successful Presidential assassinations. They were Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. I really never thought there might have been that many attempts, but I can see that people get distraut with how things are going, and if they are at all unstable, they might attempt to shoot the president.

President Reagan’s shooting was probably one of the most strange, because he appartently didn’t feel the .22 caliber bullet that entered his chest, narrowly missing his heart, and hit his lung. There were three attendants with him, who were also hit. They were White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and DC police officer Thomas Delahaney. Hinkley was then overpowered and pinned against a wall. Reagan was shoved into the car and taken to the hospital for treatment. He made a complete recovery, which was amazing, considering that he was 70 years old at the time. He even insisted on walking into George Washington University Hospital under his own power. He was in good spirits and visiting with his wife, Nancy while waiting for surgery. He laughingly said, ”Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to his surgeons, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.”

The next day, he resumed some of his executive duties and even signed a piece of legislation from his hospital bed. He returned to work at the White House on April 11, 1981. He returned even more popular that he already was, and received a hero’s welcome by Congress. His highly successful economics plan was passed with several Democrats breaking ranks to back his plan. Nevertheless, President Reagan felt the effects of the shooting for years afterward. The other men eventually recovered, but James Brady suffered permanent brain damage and later became an advocate for the “Brady Bill” requiring a five day waiting period and background checks before the purchase of a gun, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. John Hinkley received a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” bringing with it outrage among the people of this nation. He has been incarcerated at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital since that time, but more recently has been allowed supervised home visits with his parents. I suppose that one day, he could be released, since they have said that his mental illness is in remission.

Mom aToday, it has been one month since my mother, Collene Spencer went to Heaven. After someone goes home to Heaven, it always seems odd to me that the time goes by so quickly. I can vividly remember that night just one month ago, when she left, and it doesn’t seem possible that it is a month already. While we are doing ok, we are finding ourselves feeling some caregiver’s remorse. It isn’t that we feel like we didn’t take care of Mom the way we should have, because we poured our hearts and souls into taking care of her in the way that Dad would have wanted, and in the way that she deserved.

Instead the caregiver’s remorse is that we didn’t realize just how little time we had left with her. She was so well, so we were fooled into thinking that she would not be leaving us anytime soon. That left us…well, taken completely by surprise. It really was the little things like not going into the bedroom with her right away to help her get to bed, the missed hug after church, because someone was talking to her at that moment, missing church that morning, and the distance lived from her home. They were little things, but in the end, they were the most important things, because they were the last moments we had with her…or rather the missed last moments we would have had with her.

We have found ourselves struggling with that final night. We simply don’t know what happened. Mom had a great last day, and in fact, really a great last week. She had part of her family over for lunch during the week, and then my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I took her to dinner on Thursday at one of her favorite places…Red Lobster. But it was her last day that was especially great. She went to church that morning, which was the most important thing in her life. Then, because her sister, Evelyn Hushman was in the hospital, Mom had orchestrated a luncheon at the hospital with her brother and sisters. The afternoon went amazingly well. Most of her siblings and several other family members were there, and they spent about three hours visiting, laughing, and just being together. It was a beautiful afternoon, and one that would be cherished by all who were there that day. Then, Mom and Cheryl went home for a quiet evening, dinner, and a movie.
Spencer Family
Then, while Cheryl did the dishes, Mom decided to go to bed, but once in the bedroom, she went to Heaven instead. They couldn’t tell us exactly what had happened, and so we are left wondering about it…and wishing we had her back. That is the real caregiver’s remorse…wishing you could go back and change things somehow, so the outcome could be different. The point when all you know to do is not enough, makes you feel almost like a failure, even though you know that you have done your very best. I know that Mom is happy with Dad in Heaven, but we really miss her here. Our caregiver’s hearts have become lonely hearts. We love you Mom, and we’ll see you and Dad real soon.

Walt & Joann weddingWhen Bob’s aunt, Margee Kountz was born, her oldest sister, my mother-in-law, Joann was dating and planning her wedding to my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg. He was working in another town, and so they wrote letters back and forth, because they didn’t get to see each other as often as they would like. Of course, they talked about the normal things, like missing each other, and such, but they also talked about the future, and what they wanted it to be.

One thing that has stuck in my mind about those letters, is how my father-in-law felt about his soon to be sister-in-law, Margee. She would only be 4½ months old when they married, and he just thought she was the cutest little baby he had ever seen. He mentioned several times in the letters they wrote back and forth, that when they had a little girl, he wanted his Margeedaughter to be just like Margee. He simply loved his little future sister-in-law so much, that he would have loved to have a dozen or so of them. In the end, he didn’t have a dozen daughters, but he did get four of them, as well as two sons, so I guess his dream of lots of kids, and especially daughters, came true.

Through the years, Margee remained a big part of their lives. She has pretty much always lived near them, and has shared a good portion of their lives. Holidays, birthdays, and barbeques were among the things the families shared, and of course, these always included Grandma and Grandpa Knox, the sister’s parents too. It was the way they kept the families close, and it was a good thing for all of us.

As the years flew by and everyone got busy with their own lives, it might have seemed that we didn’t spend as much time with Margee as we used to, but when we needed her, she was there. She worked for most of her Mom and Margeeadult life, but when her sister, Joann, my mother-in-law, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, began to need someone to stay with her when my father-in-law had appointments, we might have had a big problem, but Margee, by that time retired, agreed to come and sit with her sister. I truly don’t know what we would have done had she not been able to do that. There were times when my father-in-law was in the hospital, and we all worked. There was no way to just find someone to take a week off to go and stay with her, but once again, Margee stepped in and bailed us out. She spent the days, and we took care of the nights. I hope she knows just what a relief that was to us. It was a debt we can never repay. Today is Margee’s birthday. Happy birthday Margee!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

House near Belle Chester where Mina, Fred, Bertha and Elas were bornOne of the things about family history that especially holds my interest is locating the house where someone was born. It isn’t that I always set out to locate the house, but when one falls in my lap, I am especially excited…and that seems to happen a lot. There is a feeling of almost wonder when I find the exact place where one of my ancestors was born…especially when it is someone very dear to me. I don’t know exactly why that is exciting to me, except that it’s not every day that you find your self looking at the exact place that your parent or grandparent was born.

Home births are making a comeback these days, and I suppose that more and more people will be able to say that one specific house is where they were born. I very seldom feel the same way about the hospital where someone was born. Maybe that is because it is not very unique. Many other babies were born there too. I do think that I would feel that way about the hospital I was born in, because that is personal, but the one my kids and grandkids were born in, is also the place where a number of my loved ones passed away, and that feels different to me. I believe that my kids and grandkids will feel a closeness to the Wyoming Medical Center, because it is their birthplace, and that will make it special to them.

The house where someone was born, however, will always hold a special interest to me. I have to wonder what those walls to tell if they could talk. How did the family feel as each child joined the family? This house was where my Great Aunt Mina Schumacher, my Great Uncle Fred Schumacher, and my great aunts, Bertha and Elsa Schumacher were born. It’s also possible that my Great Aunt Marie Schumacher, who passed away at three years of age, could have been born in this house. My guess is that there was much happiness there, as well as some sadness. That is the way it is in any home…life happens there. That house saw the children playing and growing up, and the new births, one by one, and the family grew to it’s full size.

Before they would move to North Dakota, I’m sure there were many memories made there, but by the time Bertha and Elsa would return to the area for a visit, they no longer remembered the home where they were The younger Schumachersborn, nor the wonderful times the family had there. Bertha wrote about that in her journal, so I have a feeling that those lost memories made her feel a bit sad, just like they would for me. I have a feeling that Aunt Bertha and I were quite a bit alike, and so the things that she thought were important to remember are the same kinds of things that I think are important. I am always very saddened by memories lost. Even if it is about people that I never knew, because everyone has a story, and someone, somewhere feels like their story is important, and once it is lost, it is very hard to find again. If no one ever wrote it down or told it, no one remembers. I guess that is why finding the house where someone was born is so important…it is where their story started.

Jeff AtkinsonYesterday, I attended the funeral of Casper firefighter, Captain Jeffrey Atkinson. The service was beautiful and filled with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a hero. The ceremony included bag pipes, the Shriner’s Calliope Band, the sounding of the last bell, and the presentation of the helmet, badge, and flag to his widow, Kristen and his sons Eddie and Christopf. There were tributes about his bravery, his humor, and his caring ways. He was a firefighter, but more than that he was a husband, father, son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, and friend. His family loved him so much, and now cancer had taken him from them. It was a terribly sad time for a lot of people, in the firefighting community and the entire city too.

As I sat there listening to the ceremony, my mind drifted back over the last nine years, and my own encounters with Jeff and the other firefighters. As a caregiver for my parents and my in-laws over the past nine years, there have been more occasions than I care to think about when I would have to call for an ambulance for my loved ones. As most of you know, the fire department is often the first responder on those occasions. Since my husband Bob had been the fire department mechanic for many years, the firefighters knew me, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They weren’t just there because they knew Bob and me, they were there because they care about the people of Casper…or anyone in need.

Jeff and a number of other firefighters came to my rescue on more occasions than I want to think back on. In nine years of caregiving, there have been dozens of times when I had no other choice but to seek help in emergency situations. The firefighters and ambulance personnel were always professional, caring, and gentle with my parents and in-laws, but the firemen always seemed to look beyond just the patient. They saw me…standing there in the middle of it all, trying desperately to stay in control of my emotions long enough to be able to give them the information they needed in order to help their patient…my loved one.

At the time of those calls, I didn’t know if my loved one was going to make it through this. I felt like I was falling into a bottomless pit. Those were the worst moments of my life, and they saw me at my absolute worst. It didn’t matter to them. They saw that I was scared and trying desperately to hold myself together. It was at that point, as the EMTs were taking my loved one out to the ambulance that the firefighters turned their attention to me, asking if I was ok. Of course, that was the breaking point for me, and the tears flowed. Several of the firefighters, including Jeff took it upon themselves to give me the hug I really needed, and the encouragement to go forward and make my way to the hospital to give the information needed to the hospital staff too. I don’t think I could have made it without that hug. A hug might seem like such a small thing, but when your parents are sick and you have to be the one to make all the decisions about their care, it can feel so overwhelming. I felt lost and alone. They showed me that I wasn’t alone after all. With Jeff’s passing, the city of Casper has lost a great firefighter.