I can’t think of anything that is harder for a mom than watching your child go through some of the worst events of their lives. Many people who go through that kind of thing, would sit down and stew in their depression, but not my niece, Chantel Balcerzak. The past year has been harder on her and her daughter, Siara Olsen than it was for a lot of us. On January 25, 2020, Siara’s three month old son, Alec passed away after a short illness. On top of that her marriage fell apart, and she got divorced. It was the worst time of her life, and she needed the love and support of her family. Chantel stepped in and Siara moved home for a time of comforting and support from her parents. Both of these girls are strong women, and they were not going to sink further into depression. Instead, they supported each other, encouraged each other, and made a plan to have a year of self improvement. Chantel’s husband and Siara’s dad, Dave Balcerzak was right there too. Giving the girls the extra support they all needed. They were all hurting, but they had to move forward.
The girls took a look at themselves, and saw that as many people had done, during the Covid-19 shutdown, they and added a few pounds and lost some muscle, and they decided it was time to get back on the right track. So they began working out over Siara’s lunches, and even set a goal for them selves. They had seen a commercial in which some chipmunks who were out of shape decided to go for “All Buff ~ No Fluff” and they made that their goal. Siara has spent a number of years in high school and college as a cheerleader, and of course, she is 23 years younger than her mom, but she tells me that sometimes Chantel beats her when they are doing pushups, so that is really cool too. Chantel doesn’t do girly pushups anymore either. They do the hard kind where you are on your hands and toes. I believe the girls will reach their final goal of looking amazing. They have already come a long way.
Siara tells me that her mom was always there for here throughout this hard, hard year. She was there to comfort her and take her mind off of her troubles, and give her advise when she needed it. When Siara moved out again and got a place of her own, Chantel was there to help her decorate it and make it her own. Chantel is an artist, so of course, Siara’s place is incredibly beautiful, and that is a gift in itself. When the chips are down, Chantel is really the person you want to have in your corner. I’m very proud of her and Siara too. Today is Chantel’s 50th birthday. It’s a milestone, and she looks incredible for it. Happy birthday Chantel!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Tornadoes are a common storm in some parts of the United States. The most common area for them is called Tornado Alley. Usually, when storms go through, you might hear of tornado watches. That doesn’t mean that there are multiple tornadoes in an area, but it could. In 1936, beginning on April 5th and extending through April 6th, the states of Mississippi and Georgia found themselves in the middle of a tornado outbreak, which is several tornadoes in an area, of course. This is the only continuous tornado outbreak in United States history to produce more than one tornado with triple digit death tolls. Also, severe flash floods from the associated storms caused millions of dollars in damage across the region.
The storm, called the Tupelo-Gainesville Outbreak, produced at least 12 tornadoes. The outbreak took place over two days, April 5th and 6th, but was really just about 12 hours in duration. The storm hit Tupelo, Mississippi at 8:30pm on April 5, 1936. It was the fourth-deadliest tornado in United States history. The storm came out of a group of storm cells, and first touched down in a rural area about eight miles from the city. The twister killed a family of 13, sweeping their house away as the tornado made its way toward Tupelo. Many more were injured before it even reached the city. The tornado was retroactively rated an F5 on the Fujita scale, it caused total destruction along its path through the Willis Heights neighborhood. In that area were a number of well-built large mansions that were blown away like a house of cards.
The tornado missed the business district, and instead hit residential areas, sadly…increasing the death toll. The Gum Pond area of Tupelo was the worst hit. Homes along the pond were swept into the water with their victims. The majority of the bodies were found in Gum Pond, the area which is now Gumtree Park, but many bodies were never recovered from the pond at all. The winds were so strong, that pine needles were embedded into trunks of trees. The tornado took out the large concrete Battle of Tupelo monument as it exited the city’s east side. According to records, the Tupelo tornado leveled 48 city blocks and between 200 and 900 homes. It officially killed at least 216 people and injured at least 700. The tornado destroyed the water tower and produced numerous fires in its wake. Thankfully, overnight rains, which left knee-deep water in some streets put out the fires. Though 216 remained the final death toll, 100 persons were still hospitalized at the time it was set. Subsequently, the Mississippi State Geologist estimated a final, unofficial death toll of 233. Surprisingly, one-year-old Elvis Presley and his parents were among the survivors, a fact I never knew about him.
After ravaging Tupelo, the storm system moved through Alabama overnight and reached Gainesville, Georgia, at around 8:30am. When the storm hit Gainesville, it became a double tornado event. One tornado moved in from the Atlanta highway, while the other moved in from the Dawsonville highway. As they came into town, the two tornadoes then merged into one on Grove Street and destroyed everything throughout the downtown area…leaving 10 foot high piles of debris in some places. The worst tornado-caused death toll in a single building in United States history was at the Cooper Pants Factory. The multiple-story building was then filled with young workers, who had just arrived to work. The structure collapsed and caught fire, killing about 70 people. At the Pacolet Mill, 550 workers moved to the northeast side of the building and survived. Many people sought refuge in Newman’s department store, and its collapse killed 20 people. In addition to the complete destruction that occurred throughout downtown Gainesville, residential areas throughout the city were devastated as well, where 750 homes were destroyed, and 254 others were badly damaged.
The Tupelo-Gainesville Outbreak took the lives of 454 people, 419 by the two main two tornadoes alone. This outbreak is the second deadliest ever recorded in United States history. Although the outbreak was centered on Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Georgia, where the fourth and fifth deadliest tornadoes in United States history respectively occurred, other destructive tornadoes associated with the outbreak hit Columbia, Tennessee; Anderson, South Carolina; and Acworth, Georgia.
Have you ever wondered what things you might change if you could just turn back time? I can think of a number of things I would change, and I can think of many things that I would never change too. Things like my husband, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are definitely in the “I wouldn’t change these things at all” category. My religious beliefs and career choices fall in that category as well. I have lived a blessed life. Of that fact there is not doubt. I had wonderful parents and in-laws, as well as sisters, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, nieces, and nephews too. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are precious to me. Yes, I have been greatly blessed. In these things, I would never choose to turn back time.
Of course, we have all made mistakes in life. I think the ones that tend to haunt us the most are the things we didn’t say, when we could have. Or we might regret the things we did say, when we might have kept quiet, or said something different. Also, we might regret the time we might have spent with those we care about, but we allowed our busy lives to dictate our time, or the lack thereof. When it pertains to those we love, like parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles, we all have wished that we had spent more time. Of course, as kids, and even as adults, there always seemed to be more time for these things later…until there wasn’t. When they are gone, we finally see just how unimportant that important thing we needed to do, really was. Of course, communication goes both ways, but some people really warrant an extra effort. Unfortunately, they don’t always let us know that they needed more of our time. They don’t want to intrude, I suppose.
If I could turn back time, I would go see my parents and in-laws more than I did. I would call and talk to siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins more. I have found that for those who are online, Facebook, texting, and Messenger have helped to fill the gaps. For me, it is far easier to text or write things down, because believe it or not, I am a bashful person. I can carry on a conversation, however, and I really should do that, so I don’t regret still another “shoulda, woulda, coulda” later in my life. I guess what I am getting at is that we all need to consider the things that are important to us, and make sure that we pay those important things enough attention. That way, maybe, “If I could turn back time” could be just another song lyrics, and not a personal regret.
My sister-in-law, Rachel Schulenberg was a sweet, thoughtful girl who loved everyone she met. When Rachel left us to go to heaven on January 19th, 2021, we knew that nothing was ever going to be the same again. Rachel left a huge hole in our lives. Rachel wasn’t perfect…none of us are, but she never quit trying to make the lives of those around her happy. As I thought about her birthday this year, I decided to talk to her classmate, Jennifer Durante, who agreed to tell me about the Rachel she knew in school.
Jennifer first met Rachel in gym class, and they became good friends from that time forward. She was impressed the fact that Rachel was always “put together” at school. While most teenagers are lucky to get out of bed and get to school in sweatpants and a t-shirt, Rachel made sure that her hair and makeup were always perfect. She always dressed in skirts and heels, and always looked like a model. She was a classy lady, and anyone who knew her would agree to that statement. Rachel took pride in who she was, and that always showed. One day in gym class, a classmate made a rude remark about Rachel having stretchmarks on her legs, and Rachel, who didn’t like or allow bullying, immediately put that girl in her place. She told her that her stretchmarks came from her pregnancy, and that she was proud to be a mom. I can hear the silence now. That snotty little girl who thought she knew something, and knew nothing was immediately shot down. Rachel stood up or the little guy, and she was not about to be made a victim herself. That rude classmate knew nothing about Rachel’s life, and she had no right to bully her.
Rachel worked hard and got good grades in school. She was also very proud of being a mom, who wouldn’t let the circumstances of life hold her back from being the best she could be. She was determined to make a good life for her and her daughter, Cassie. In her Junior and Senior years of high school, she went to school during the day and worked at Wendy’s in the evenings and weekends to support herself and Cassie. Like most teenagers, Rachel didn’t always see eye to eye with her father, Cliff Franklin and her step-mom, Jan, but she never doubted their love for her, and she was always thankful for their support of her in being both a teenager and a mom.
Like most teenagers, Rachel liked to live life fast and play her music loud!! She loved to dance and because of her bubbly personality, she brought a ray of sunshine everywhere she went. Rachel was a great comedian and knew how to make people laugh, or even how defuse a bad situation. Those are such great qualities to have. Rachel was a mom first, and she didn’t really get to go out much, but on the rare occasion, when she was able to go out and be a wild teenager, Jennifer tells me that she was the life of any party. It was as if she walked into a room, threw her arms up in the air and proclaimed “I have arrived, let’s get this party started!!” Rachel lives in Heaven now, but I can just hear her as she walked into Heaven saying that very thing. Today would have been Rachel’s 46th birthday. Happy first birthday in Heaven Rachel, we sure love and miss you here.
My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg lived a long life. The last five years were spent in Shepherd of the Valley Care Center with Alzheimer’s Disease. Her time at Shepherd was far from sad and miserable, as many people would have expected. Mom lived in her own little world, as Alzheimer’s patients do toward the end of the disease, and I’m here to tell you that her world was quite interesting. Her stories and her life in the past were very vivid in her mind, and she would happily tell those who would listen, all about it. I was one of the privileged few who got to hear all or most of her stories.
Mom did live an interesting life for sure. From her early childhood living in a sheep wagon in Montana, while her dad, Robert Knox tended the sheep; to her married years in Wyoming, raising her six children, Marlyce Schulenberg (who passed away in 1989), Debbie Cook, Bob Schulenberg, Jennifer Parmely, Brenda Schulenberg, and Ron Schulenberg; there was never a dull moment. She kept busy knitting, crocheting, sewing, canning, or in her later years, thinking she was still doing these things. There were certain things that she always thought were very cool in her life. Birthdays were always an important thing, and she loved the fact that she shared her with her first great grandson, Chris Petersen. Just like her mother before her got to share her birthday with her great granddaughter, Corrie Petersen, who is Chris’ mom. Those things were considered a “big deal” to her.
While she was at the nursing home, my mother-in-law was really quite the comedian. She would tell us things like she made the dinner, and that she did the laundry and the dishes. She was completely convinced that these things were true. Of course, no one argued the point with her either. What good would that have done? Her Alzheimer’s convinced her that she was right, and that was ok. She felt useful, and that was all she ever wanted. My mother-in-law always loved doing things for people. Her sweaters and afghans were stunning and meticulous. She spent so many years knitting and crocheting, that I’m sure she could do both in her sleep. I think if she made a mistake, she would know it for sure. She could probably locate the mistake and fix it without waking up. She just knew every stitch that well. It makes me sad that her hands are stilled now, but I know that she is in a better place, and she has her full memory now too. Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Mom. We love and miss you very much.
My grandma, Hattie Byer was the only grandmother I had while growing up, because my dad’s parents passed before and shortly after I was born. Grandma was a multi-faceted person, probably by necessity. She and my grandpa, George Byer had nine children…seven girls and two boys. As a stay-at-home mom, grandma was the main disciplinarian in the family. Grandpa worked long hours, and while he could discipline the kids, he truly had a soft heart, and I think it pained him when he had to impose discipline on his kids. I think that happens a lot. In my family, I was the disciplinarian too. My mom, Collene Spencer has told me of some of the times she got on the wrong side of her mother, with negative consequences. Lets just say that when your brother is getting in trouble, you best stay out of it, because sassing your mom is never a good idea.
Grandma was also the family chef. She made the best of so many dishes. Her Potato Pancakes have never been beaten, and yes, I’m biased, but so is every other person who has ever had them. Her Potato Milk Soup was heavenly, and her Oyster Stew was loved by many. Of course, it was my grandmother’s good cooking that created all the good cooks in the family. She taught her girls, and her boys too, to cook and they were and are still very good cooks. They don’t make exotic dishes, they make good old fashioned “Comfort Food,” and nobody makes it better than they do. Grandma could make a great mean out of almost nothing, and during the Great Depression, that is just what she did, as many a hungry guest can attest. Grandma always had extras at the table in those years. People instinctively knew where they could go to be welcomed to dine at a moment’s notice. None were turned away, and all ate to their fill.
My grandmother was a woman of small stature, just 5′ in her tall days. I’m not sure where her height came from, because her sisters were certainly much taller than the was. Since I have no idea how tall her mother, or grandmothers were, I guess it might be quite normal for her to be short. Still I have often wondered how she
ended up so short. By the time I really gave much thought to her height, she had shrunk some, and probably stood 4’10” tall…or short, as it were. She didn’t need to be real tall to catch Grandpa’s eye, however. He was in love almost immediately. Grandpa stood over 6′ tall, so there was quite a contrast there, but they always made a sweet couple, and Grandpa was always proud of his beautiful wife. Grandma was a multi-faceted person, who could handle many things, and we have all always been very proud of her too. Today would have been Grandma Byer’s 112th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Grandma. I know you and Grandpa are having a wonderful celebration. We love and miss you very much.
Some birthdays are different beyond anything we could have ever imagined. That is the kind of birthday my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg is having this year. Never in a million years did he expect to be a widower at the age of 53, but that is exactly where he finds himself, and his 13 year old son, Tucker, who also lost his mom. While Ron’s current situation is devastating, I am very proud of how he is handling it and the sadness that comes and go with both Ron and Tucker. While this year started it in the worst possible way, I pray that the rest of the year will get better. I know that his wife, Rachel would want Ron and Tucker, as well as her other children, Cassie and Riley, to be happy in life…as hard as that seems right now.
With Rachel’s passing came other changes for Ron. He had always worked nights, but with a 13 year old at home, he needed to change that to days, so that is what he did. It is a big change for him. He preferred the night shift, but it was important for Tucker, and that is all that matters now. Another change is that Ron is now the “Chief cook and bottle washer,” so to speak. He can cook, but Rachel was a phenomenal cook…a hard act to follow. I believe that Ron with find his own rhythm and cooking style. Tucker likes most of what he cooks now, and they will find things together that they like. Who knows, maybe Tucker will find some good recipes too.
We are all so thankful that Tucker has his dad, who adopted him on June 27, 2019. Tucker is not alone now. He has his dad to help him get through such a sad time in his life. And Tucker is helping his dad too. They depend on each other now, and work together to get through this. When I think of the terrible loneliness that happens after such a loss, it tears at my heart that these guys are going through it I know that in time, there will be less pain, but right now, it is so strong and we have no way to ease their pain. The future will be different than they every planned for it to be, but they will get through it and we as a family will help them to get through it. Today is the first birthday Ron has had without Rachel in ten years, and that will make it a hard day, but I pray that he knows how much Rachel loved him, and that she wants the best for him and her children. She is in Heaven now, but her memory will always live on in our spirits. I pray that Ron can find some measure of happiness today too. Today is Ron’s birthday. Happy birthday Ron!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
With each passing year, I find myself more and more amazed that my mom, Collene Spencer could be in Heaven for six years now. For those of us who miss her very much, that thought feels sad, but for my mom, who loved the Lord so much and was excited to see Heaven, these have been wonderful years, that seemed like seconds, I’m sure. Each day for her is now spent in rejoicing, because that was always what my mom wanted. She never desired anything more than to worship God and bask in His presence. Like one of the songs we used at her funeral, and those of many others now, tells us, “We can only imagine what it will be like!!”
Mom enjoyed many things in her lifetime. She liked to travel, go camping, celebrate the holidays, and spend time with family, but more than anything, my mom loved to spend time in the Word. We bought he a Kindle when they first came out, and loaded it with Christian books and the Bible. It made it so much easier for her to read, because it was so light and easy to hold. She had dozens of books at her disposal, and she loved that. She spent her days reading and communing with God while her family was all at work. Anyone who knew her will tell you that my mom was “All about bringing others to the Lord.” She loved people, and didn’t want anyone to be lost, but she really wanted people to know how much God loves them. She never stopped telling others about God’s love for them, and that is to her credit. I can’t begin to count the number of people she led to the Lord in her lifetime.
Of the things on this Earth, the most important to mom was her family. She treasured each and every new baby that was added to her lineage, and I know she can’t wait to meet the ones who have arrived after her homegoing. She also treasured the new spouses and partners. There was a special place in her heart for each of these new additions. When someone loves one of her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and beyond, that makes them awesome in Mom’s eyes…and that makes them as much hers as if she had given birth to them. There was always room in Mom’s heart for more loved ones. She loved watching her family grow with each new addition. She considered each one perfect. It s such a wonderful way to look at people, and one we should all incorporate into our own lives. When I think of the life lessons my mom gave us, these things are among the greatest. As I look forward to my own homegoing someday, I can only imagine just how wonderful it will be, and as I continue my life on Earth, it is my desire to live my life in such a way as to make my mom and my dad proud of the child they raised, and the woman I have become. I miss my mom very much, and I am forever grateful for the life she and my dad gave me. Happy 6th anniversary of your homegoing, Mom. We love and miss you very much and can’t wait to see you again.
Let’s face it. This past year has been…the worst. The closures, job losses, and personal losses; many of which are still going on a year later, have made us all edgy, irritable, and even depressed. Many people are still in a place where social distancing is the norm. For my family, Thanksgiving was cancelled, because my husband, Bob and I had Covid-19. Then Christmas was delayed 24 days, because my daughter, Corrie Petersen and her husband Kevin had Covid-19. Kevin got it the worst, as his system is compromised, but after a week in the hospital, he is home and doing very well. We lost out on so much in 2020, and now we are back to almost normal.
Valentine’s Day is a little bit different holiday, since it is mostly about couples, but since Bob and I prefer not to go to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, because of the crowds, we are going to be staying home, but its not going to be just us. This year, our family is a little bit battered, because we have lost one of the members of the couples…my sister-in-law, Rachel Schulenberg. That leaves her husband, my brother-in-law, Ron and their son, Tucker in a very different place than they expected. We decided to ease them into the coming year, that will be inevitably hard, by having a small group Valentine’s Day gathering. There will be five of us, Bob, Ron, Tucker, my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg, and me. Unfortunately, it will be a sad time, because Rachel won’t be with us, but the reality is that it’s about love, and we love Ron and Tucker. We want to help them move forward, and I know that Rachel would be pleased that her guys aren’t alone on this difficult day. We aren’t the only family that is living with battle scars. There are so many families that have lost someone or have someone in the hospital. There are many people who cannot be with their loved ones today. Some have to work, and some live far away too. There are some in my family in that place, and while that feels sad for some of us, they are in the place they need to be.
Today is not supposed to be a sad day, but sometimes that is just the way it is. Nevertheless, we also have reasons to be happy. Family, friends, hope, and love, are all a part of our futures now too. Rachel is in Heaven, but she, along with all of our other loved ones are happy, and they are in our future now. This is a day to rejoice too. There are blessings that come with this day. Wedding anniversaries, like that of my niece Lindsay Moore and her husband Shannon, who’s daughter Hallie was born and went to Heaven on December 19, 2020 can be sad, but they are still celebrating, because they have been together for 7 years now and they will see Hallie Joy again soon. She lives in their future now, not their past. It’s about love, and Hallie would want them to go forward. For me, the main this is that we never forget those we love.
Of course, many of us celebrate this day because we love our own sweethearts. We are all blessed with loved ones, partners, spouses, or other family members. There is really no greater emotion than love. I don’t know how any of us would survive without it. This world can be cruel, and it is love that balances it out for us. So today, we celebrate, even if life has left us a little sad. Because, it is really all about love.
My husband’s grandmother, Vina Hein was an amazing woman. We always loved going up to visit her and Grandpa Hein. They lived on a ranch outside of Forsyth, Montana, and that place will forever live in my memory files. I can see every part of the house and the different things we did there. I remember all the nights of playing cards. We always played “Spades” and Grandma always had a funny saying when she looked at her hand and it wasn’t a good one. She would tell us that she had “a hand like a foot!!” We often looked through all the old photo albums too. Those pictures are great treasures, and I feel privileged to have been able to look through them. They were pure family history. Going to see Grandma and Grandpa Hein was such a blessing, and one I will always cherish.
Grandma Hein was born on Groundhog’s Day, a fact that she enjoyed very much. It seems that finding out if spring would come early each year was something special. Of course, the biggest problem with that is that all too often Punxsutawney Phil was, and still is, very wrong. I have given up on that silly ground hog!! Even with this morning’s prediction that we will have 6 more weeks of Winter, it would be just a coincidence if that is the way it went, because that silly ground hog gets it wrong 99% of the time. Still, for Grandma, it was cool to have that birthday. I guess that when you think about it, at least you were on the downhill side of the Winter, so spring was coming.
I think Grandma was like me, in that Winter was her least favorite season. Living in the country is more work anyway, and the Winter weather makes it worse. Montana winters are notoriously bitter, so I can see why she would rather have any other season. Grandma wasn’t one to have lots of flowers in the house, that I recall, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t grow a garden, because she certainly could. She canned vegetables and made jellies and apple butter. She also made wonderful strawberry-rhubarb pie. there was also always plant of fresh real cream on her table from the cows they milked. You haven’t tasted cream, until you have had it fresh, without all the processing. Oh my!! It is so good. I will never forget the trips we took to see Grandma and Grandpa Hein. I will always have those cherished memories. Today would have been Grandma Hein’s 112th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Grandma Hein. We love and miss you very much.