kindness

My niece, Siara Olsen had a really tough year two years ago, but God had a new plan for her life. Siara was unsure why God would send her a man who shared a birthday with her son Alec Olsen. Siara lost Alec just a little under two years ago, to RSV. Having a boyfriend who shared that birthday felt a little strange…at least until Siara got to know Chris Kirk’s heart. Today is Chris’ birthday, but he decided to give Siara and her mom, Chantel Balcerzak a spa day so that Siara wouldn’t spend the whole day thinking sad thoughts about Alec. What an incredibly kind thing to do for her…on his birthday. Siara can’t say enough about Chris’ kindness, and just how genuine guy he is.

Chris has three siblings, one brother and two sisters. He is an amazing uncle to all of his nephews and nieces, as well as to Siara’s nieces and nephew. He bought his one nephew brand new wrestling shoes and takes him to the gym with him. Chris is a wrestler and is competing in a wrestling tournament in Denver next weekend, so his nephew is “helping” him prepare. It’s an exciting event, and even Siara’s parents are going to watch. Chris and Siara also work out together, and I can tell that he is very athletic. They love to go hiking and have seen many cool places this summer. One of their favorites is the Bridle Trail, which happen to be one of my favorite trails too. Such a beautiful hike.

Chris and Siara have many things in common. One is football. Chris loves football, and Siara, who was a cheerleader loves it too. So, they have gone to some Wyoming games, and Chris knows that he doesn’t have to worry about his girl hating that he watches football.  They are also two very fun people, who love goofing off and having a good time.

Not all of Chris’ life was just perfect. Chris spent much of his childhood in foster care, and as we all know, that is not always a recipe for a child turning out well, but Chris was determined to become a good person. He wanted to be proud of himself, and so he worked to become a good man. While he did come out of foster care, he turned into a beautiful person in spite of it. As far as we, Siara’s family, are concerned, the fact that Chris is such a loving person, who treats Siara the way she deserves to be treated. And Chris is just that man. He is loving and even doting when it comes to Siara. He makes her feel spoiled and very special, and that makes us like Chris a lot. Today is Chris’ birthday. Happy birthday Chris!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

The other day, while in the Black Hills, I was spending time in one of my favorite pastimes…people watching. Keystone, South Dakota is an interesting mix of people, and somehow everyone gets along and mingles with ease. There is no animosity in Keystone. Everyone is in a relaxed, party mood and even when they are waiting in line to order food, and the line is really long, and things are taking some time, nobody gets upset. They are kind to each other and they are patient. I watched people from all walks of life. There were bikers standing next to what appeared to me to be a doctor and his family, and there were smiles all around. People helped those who needed help, opened doors for each other; and by the way, color made no difference. In the year following a year of riots, unrest, racism, and rudeness, this was Heaven.

Of course, we were in South Dakota…a Republican state that did not close down for Covid. I’m not going to get too deeply into politics here, but it is impossible not to notice the difference in the states. I was in Keystone when President Trump was at Rushmore, and there were protests, but no real violence, no riots, and no vandalism. People were just different there…more polite, more civil, more caring. Even in the midst of a protest, when people were calling out their own views, there was no violence. That means something. It means that people can disagree without being hateful. It also means that certain things were not going to be tolerated, and those who would act out should know they would be arrested. Of course, the police were everywhere, and having a police presence is crucial to keeping order. I am aware that there are good cops and bad cops, but in Keystone, it seemed that the police officers were good and caring, because they wanted the honor that went with being good cops.

There are also good people and bad people, and there are those who are paid to be evil. And those are the worst kind of all. People talk about the naivete of the rural people of our country, but I think they are some of the best people there are. Those good old fashioned values, caring about your neighbors, helping others, and not looking at the color of someone’s skin, those are the kind of people I see in rural America. I wouldn’t want to live in a big city, because I think you lose a lot of that loving, caring lifestyle. That is what we need to work toward getting back in this country…a more caring lifestyle.

It’s always strange to look back and realize that a loved one has been in Heaven for a year. The subsequent years aren’t as shocking, at least until your reach the milestones like 5, 10, or more. That strange realization is where I find myself today, the one year anniversary on my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg’s passing.

Over the years, much changed with my mother-in-law. She was, from the time I first met her, a stubborn woman, and I suppose that many people might take that to mean annoying, but she wasn’t. People might disagree with me, but in my opinion, the type of stubbornness that she had is a good form, because it is more of an “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” type of stubbornness. In fact, she and I are probably very much alike in our stubbornness, and quite possibly, that is part of the reason we always got along so well. She was a wonderful mother-in-law. My mother-in-law taught herself to master many types of crafts, including quilting, crocheting, knitting, sewing, and canning. These things served her family well over the years. Her crafts proving them with things they needed, and she made money on them too.

As Alzheimer’s began to rob her of much of her recent memory, she became more confused, but I believe that she and we handled it well. She became quite funny. Never one to joke much, she suddenly had a kind of dry humor that I can really relate to. She would surprise me with her quick comebacks, at a time that I thought she didn’t know what was going on, or who I was. Fooled me every time!! Whether she knew she had fooled me, somehow did it on purpose, or simply stated a fact as she saw it at that moment, it was always funny.

In all of the 11 years that I took care of her, my mother-in-law was really a joy to be around, even when she fought with me periodically. The time I spent taking care of her was as rewarding as the time I spent taking care of the rest of the parents. End of life care is really what you make of it. The person is always so grateful to you for your help, and there is a bond with them that will forever change them both. You can’t spent that many hours with your mother-in-law, and not feel a closeness to her. She told me about things in the past, and really enriched my understanding of my husband’s genealogy. She may not have even realized the impact that our conversations had on me, but they were like pure gold. Priceless, and a gift that I will cherish forever. Joann Knox Schulenberg lived a very interesting life, and one that was very different from my own. She was the mother of my husband, Bob, and the way she raised her children, enriched my life too. She taught them to be loyal, hard working people, who had self esteem and were respectful to others. She taught them to be kind and helpful to those in need. She raised her family to be close friends, and to share their talents for the good of all. They have always worked together on things. What more could a daughter-in-law ask of her mother-in-law? Mom, most of all, you were a true friend to me, and I miss you very much. I can’t believe that it has already been a year since you left us.

My niece, Susan Griffith is a kind and loving person. She has such a sweet spirit, and a gentleness in her ways. I’m sure these traits are part of what draws many people to Susan. I know that they are part of what draws me to her. I suppose that people might call her shy, and maybe she is…a little, but not that much really. Not when you get to know her. Susan reminds me of me somewhat, even though it would not be my genes that would have made her who she is, since I am her aunt by marriage, not by blood. Susan is a very capable person, who simply never comes off as conceited or proud.

Susan is a health insurance agent, working for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming in Powell, Wyoming. That is another similarity we have. Although I’m not in health insurance, but rather property and casualty insurance. It’s not the easiest way to make a living, but it is rewarding when you find that you can really help someone. Like me, I think Susan has found her niche. She likes insurance work.

Susan has lived most of her life in a small town, but now she and her family live in the country outside Powell. She was never really around animals much, but now she gets to be a rounded them much more often. She was never too sure of riding horses, but her husband Josh showed her the ropes, and now she loves to ride. The family often takes the horses out camping and they really enjoy the time they have. Their girls, Jala and Kaytlyn, ride as much as they can, and the experience has been great for the whole family. Susan loves camping and being in the mountains. There is such peace and tranquility there, and she loves that. They go hiking and riding all over the Big Horn mountains.

I think that if you asked Susan what her greatest blessings are, she would tell you her husband and kids. Whenever I talk to her, she tells me how sweet Josh is to her and how great a dad he is. Nevertheless, I think Josh considers himself pretty blessed too. Susan is a special girl, who is loved by everyone who knows her. Today is Susan’s birthday. Happy birthday Susan!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My grandnephew, Zack Spethman is a great kid, but he is quickly growing up and is hardly a kid anymore. Today he became a teenager, and is just about to finish his first year of middle school. That put him back at the same school and his brother and good friend, Xander. The share many activities, likes and dislikes, and their similar personalities. Football is the sport above all sports for them. They love to watch and play. It is a family tradition. The three Spethman brothers, Xander, Zack, and Isaac rising up through the ranks of school football. It keeps their parents busy with all the games.

Of course, football isn’t everything in their lives. Zack loves to climb mountains, play pool, and shoot guns…everything from air guns, to paintball guns, to real guns. He is a good shot and goes to practice with his family often, but he also knows about gun safety, and has passed the hunter safety course, so he can go hunting. Still, while hunting is a great adventure, the boys love combat competitions. They love to strategize the ways to dominate and “take out” the other team. Zack and Xander tend to pool their strategic resources to obtain the victory.

Zack’s dad, Steve Spethman decided to remodel the family kitchen earlier this year, and the boys got to learn about construction by helping their dad do the work. They were very attentive and meticulous about the work, and they learned a lot about the construction business. Their dad is a great carpenter, and a great teacher, so they learned from the best. They often work with their dad, and he is teaching them the value of hard work. Their parents have also taught the kids to be responsible for each other and for their little sister, and this is a job Zack takes seriously. He can often be seen encouraging his siblings and assisting his little sister, Aleesia. They are all very close.

Zack is such a sweet, kind young man, and we are all proud of him. He is loyal and loving to his family, and helpful to all in need. He is always there to give a hug or a word of encouragement. He is a good student, and is responsible. When he says he will be somewhere, he is. That was never more clear that when he was given an award for the best attendance in football last year. With his winning attitude and awesome personality, I know Zach will go far. He is a blessing to those who know him. Today is Zack’s 13th birthday. Happy birthday Zack!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Brian Cratty, who is my sister-in-law Jennifer Parmely’s partner is a somewhat quiet man, who is very likable. They share so many common interests, the biggest of which is the love of the outdoors. That means hiking, skiing, and of course, Brian’s favorite, bicycling. They love to be in the mountains, and so when the chance came up to buy a cabin on Casper Mountain, they took it. For the past few years, they have been spending time fixing up their little cabin so that it can be a place where they can gather with their family and just enjoy the beauty of the mountain.

Brian is a retired pilot, so he likes those high altitudes, but being on the mountain is much different from flying above it. Still, there is something about being up there. Live is different on the mountain. It’s quieter and more relaxed. The air is fresh and clean, and the trees smell amazing. Who could blame Brian for wanting a cabin up there. The area where their cabin is, has an abundance of trees, and it is very peaceful. The location is perfect for both hiking and bicycling because it is near a trail.

Brian and Jennifer are so good together. They are two people who are happily going in the same direction, and that is always a good thing. Their blended family seems to do well with it too, even though the kids are all grown and living on their own. The thing I think I like best about Brian, however, is his caring nature. He is so good to Jennifer, and that goes a long way when a guy joins a family. Being the new guy on the block is never easy, but when you have a kindness about you, and you don’t force your own way, it gets a whole lot easier. That is exactly the kind of guy Brian is. I remember when I first met him. He wasn’t loud and boisterous, but had a relaxed way, or maybe such a big family was simply overwhelming. Either way, we really think he is a great addition to the family. Today is Brian’s birthday. Happy birthday Brian! Have a great day!! We love you!

My grandnephew, Ethan Hadlock is a sweet boy. He is always ready to hand out the hugs to all the people he cares about. Ethan is the oldest of my sister, Allyn and her husband, Chris Hadlock’s grandchildren, and the only boy, so he is pretty protective of his little girl cousins, Adelaide Sawdon and McKenzie Moore, and his sister, Aurora Hadlock. It’s what being the boy in the family is all about. Ethan has a soft heart and it shows in everything he does. Ethan turned 9 years old today. I have a really hard time thinking that he could possibly be 9 years old already. He is a good student and works really hard in his classes. He is a really great reader, and he has been known to practice his reading on his little sister, so as he practiced, and she got to hear the story. She is learning to read too now, so I don’t suppose he has to read to her much these days. Ethan is such a kind boy that he won the Kindness Award at his school.

Ethan has lofty goals for a boy in the 3rd grade. He has decided that he wants to be a Marine, so he can kill bad guys. I never would have expected the Marines, but his desire to fight crime and terrorism is not surprising, because Ethan’s grandpa, Chris Hadlock is a retired Casper Police Department Lieutenant, and his uncle, Jason Sawdon is a Wyoming Highway Patrol Officer. Both of them are decorated, and I know that Ethan is very proud of them. After his time in the Marines, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Ethan become a cop in some branch of law enforcement. Sometimes this kind of thing runs in families, and it almost like it is in their blood.

Of course, Ethan doesn’t spend all his time working toward becoming a Marine. He does have to spend some time being a kid. Ethan, like many kids, likes video games, and his favorite is Minecraft. For those, like me, who had no idea what the game is all about, it is a game about digging (mine) and building (craft). Basically you build buildings, so similar to construction. Maybe Ethan will become an architect. I think he would be good at that too. Ethan is really a kid with a wide variety of interests. I suppose that comes from being such a good student. He has taken the time to broaden his horizons, so to speak.

Ethan has a great sense of humor, and loves to pick on his Great Aunt Caryn, by flipping my long hair on top of my head from time to time, and then pretending that it wasn’t him. When I can’t catch him at it, he just laughs and laughs. I’m quite sure that he uses his teasing prowess on his aunts, uncles, and grandparents too, if I know him. In all, Ethan is probably a normal 9 year old, but in many ways I think he is pretty exceptional. Today is Ethan’s 9th birthday. Happy birthday Ethan!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to realize that Father’s Day is again upon us. Since both my dad, Allen Spencer and my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg are in Heaven now, the commercialized part of Father’s Day has little effect on me. I think about both of them daily, and miss them very much, but other than flowers for their graves, there is little in the way of things that I can give them. However, that does not mean that I don’t love, honor, and respect them today and every day. These days, I think that the best way for me to show honor to the two very special dads that God blessed me with is to try to live my life in a way that would make them proud. I suppose that a lot of people would say, “You are over 60 years old, you should do whatever you want to.” But, I don’t think that there ever comes a day when we should not try to make our parents proud. After all, they gave us life, and nurtured us all of the rest of their lives…yes, even when we were adults.

With the passing of each of my dads, came the promise to take care of the moms. And to that task, we set ourselves. It wasn’t always easy, but my dads loved their wives, and had taken care of them all of their married lives. One of the biggest worries of an elderly married person, is the thought that when they are gone, no one will take care of their spouse, and that is not a needless worry sometimes. Nevertheless, my dads knew that when they went home, my mom, Collene Spencer and my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg would be taken care of, and they were not wrong on that. My Dad passed away December 12, 2007, and we cared for my mom for seven years and two months, until her passing on February 22, 2015. My father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013, and my mother-in-law is still alive today, and we continue to show her the love and respect she deserves, and he would want for her. These things were not a burden to be borne, but rather a privilege that was given to us…the privilege of still having our mom. No, there may not be much I can give my dad or my father-in-law, but I can do my best to always be the kind of person they would have wanted me to be.

Of course, Father’s Day for me always takes in my own sweet husband, Bob Schulenberg, and my sons-in-law, Kevin Petersen and Travis Royce, all of whom are amazing dads, and all of whom have enriched our family by being a part of it. Every day, they add richness to our lives with their hard work, sense of humor, and their deep love for us…their family. To me, that is the most important thing a man can do. These men have been in our family for many years now, Bob for 42 years, Kevin for 24 years, and Travis for 22 years…unheard of lengths of time in marriages these days. They have proven time and time again that they are worthy of our love and respect. God gave each of us such wonderful blessings in these men. I love each of them very much, as I do my two dads in Heaven, and I wish each of them and all dads everywhere, a very happy Father’s Day!!

My niece, Kayla Stevens has been spending her time studying for her degree in social work. I haven’t had much experience in that field, but I can tell you that Kayla has a heart for it. Her dream job would be in the school system, and after listening to her talk about a program that is dear to her, you can have no doubt that she will be an excellent social worker for children. When someone has a real heart for something, it simply bubbles out of them as they talk about it. Their excitement about it can not be contained. That is what I saw in Kayla the other day at my sister, Cheryl Masterson’s house.

Kayla and her husband, my nephew, Garrett live next door to Cheryl, and all of Cheryl’s little grandchildren love to go visit Kayla and Garrett. They would be over there all afternoon if they could. I knew that Garrett loved kids…he has all his life, but you don’t know if his wife would tolerate them because they are his cousins, or if she genuinely loves them too. After listening to Kayla, I can say that there is no doubt that she loved kids too. I knew they wanted kids, so of course, she loves kids, but it is often different when they aren’t your kids. Many people have no real patience for other people’s kids. That is not the case with Kayla, however. She genuinely loves kids, and she genuinely wants to help them. For that reason, and from listening to her, I know that any school district would be extremely blessed to have Kayla working with their kids…she’s awesome!!

This past weekend marked the completion of Kayla’s college education, as she received her Masters Degree in Social Work…graduating with honors, a wonderful thing to show for all her hard work and perseverance. We are all so excited for her and she begins her new journey. I know that success will follow her wherever she goes, and that any employer would be very blessed to have her on their team. She is kind and caring, and very good at what she does. We are so proud of all you have accomplished. You are going to have a great future in social work, and your clients couldn’t be more blessed. Your heart for kids and for those who need help is amazing. Congratulations Kayla!! We love you!!

The name Bonnie comes from the Scottish word “bonnie” meaning pretty or attractive, which was itself derived from Middle French bonne “good” as a way to describe a fair, good, and beautiful girl. I think that is what my grandparents had in mind when they named my aunt Bonnie Beth Byer, who is now Bonnie McDaniels. I think her husband, Jack McDaniels agreed with that description, because from the first time he laid eyes on Aunt Bonnie, his heart decided to do a dance. Now, no one told me that, but I could see it every time he looked at her. He was so in love with her, and he always knew that she was his bonnie Bonnie…or as the meaning goes, his beautiful Bonnie.

Aunt Bonnie is indeed a beautiful woman, inside and out…and she used to make bonnie cakes before she retired from that. The weddings that her cakes graced are among the most beautiful ever seen. No professional could have bested her in my opinion. There is a beauty that comes from making something with love. Her cakes had the physical beauty, but the love beauty was truly the icing on the cake. There is just something about someone with a great talent, who thinks more about other people that she does herself. That’s just how Aunt Bonnie is, so thoughtful, kind, and caring.

Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Jack have always had a lovely place out in the country. It is normally so quiet and peaceful, but there have been a few exciting moments, one of which was the time the bridge burned, when someone set of fireworks on the old wooden bridge that was the only easy way out of their place. The alternate access road was miles out of the way for Aunt Bonnie. For a time, the county had talked about not rebuilding the bridge, but finally they decided to do so. I’m thankful, because if another fire went through the area, it would be difficult for her to escape…and that had me worried. I love my aunt and I want her to be safe. I’m sure that was not the first trial Aunt Bonnie had while living in the country, and probably won’t be the last either. Nevertheless, she takes it all in stride, because she is a strong woman, as well as a bonnie beautiful one. Today is Aunt Bonnie’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Bonnie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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