My little grand niece, Elliott Stevens is a bouncy, curly-haired little blonde girl who is full of life and seldom slows down for a minute. She is the light of her parents, Kayla and Garrett’s lives. They play with her, and read to her, and make her feel like a princess, which I think she must be…Princess Elliott. Her favorite outfits are very princess-like.
Elliott, like most little girls her age is very much into everything “Frozen.” Since the movie came out, along with every toy, outfit, game, furniture, and shoes, everyone knows what to buy Elliott for her birthday. Anything “Frozen,” of course. Elliott looks so cute in her “Frozen” garb, and with her bubbly personality, she is the life of any party.
Elliott, also like most kids her age, is really into bubbles. She is mesmerized by them. Someone got her a “Frozen” bubble machine, and all she has to do is push a button to make bubbles. That is perfect for a two year old girl. Not many of them can make the bubbles work by blowing through a soap-filled circle, but they can push a button. To Elliott’s delight, the bubbles just keep coming out. The “Frozen” bubble-maker is an amazing invention. Elliott pays with it a lot, and doesn’t seem to misplace it at all. It brings her so much happiness. I think everyone was mesmerized just watching her be mesmerized.
Saturday, Elliott’s parents held a birthday party for her. They rented a water slide, and everyone had a great time. Elliott went down the slide with her parents, but she didn’t really like it much, so they filled up her little waterslide. I don’t now if she went on that one or not, but she has, and loves it. I think it’s shortened height makes it a little bit lest intimidating. Nevertheless, she had a wonderful birthday party. Today is Elliott’s 2nd birthday. Happy birthday Elliott!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
As I was thinking about my niece, Chantel Balcerzak, my thoughts turned to just how sweet and caring she is. I knew what my feeling were concerning my niece, but I thought maybe it would be nice to hear things from a different perspective. I asked my grandniece, and Chantel’s daughter for some of her memories. I was not disappointed.
Siara Olsen, who is Chantel’s youngest child, told me that, as with many kids, one of the best parts about school for her, were the field trips the classes get to go on. All the students in the class got to bring a lunch from home to have for the trip. Chantel always made sure that their lunches on those days were special. She would get Lunchables, chips, and their favorite candy. These might have been things they wouldn’t have had otherwise, but Chantel wanted to make it special. I think Siara, and her brother Jake Harman would tell you that it was more than what was in the lunch, that made it special, it was the love she put into it too.
Chantel was a single mom for part of her children’s lives, and she didn’t want them to feel like they had missed out of time with their mom and the memories that would create, so on what became special nights, Chantel would declare that they were going to have a “Carpet Picnic.” The kids got to pick out their favorite junk foods like, Pigs in a Blanket, Totino’s pizza, and Wheat Thins with Cream Cheese. Chantel laid out a blanket on the floor, set out the food, and they ate dinner, while watching a special movie they had picked out. The memories of those picnics will stay with the kid all their lives, because, of the love she put into the evening.
Because Chantel was a single mom, the kids spend time each year with their dad in Louisiana. That was a hard time for Chantel, because she dearly loved her kids, and hated to be away from them. One year, she had a great idea. Just so you know, Chantel is an artist, and her work is great. So that year, when the kids came home from Louisiana, both of their bedrooms had been completely transformed. Chantel had decorated Siara’s room in a princess theme, and Jake’s room was dragons and knives. Siara tells me that they were amazing. I can imagine, because I have things in my home that Chantel has painted, so I know her talents. Still, when it came to her kids, well it was more than the paint, curtains, and decorations…it was the love their mom put into this sweet gift for their homecoming.
Like many in our family, the Black Hills is a special destination. We all love to go there, and many of us go every year. Chantel’s family is one of those for whom the annual 4th of July trip to South Dakota is a must. The family goes camping, and sight seeing, because as anyone who loves the Black Hills knows, you never see it all over there. Chantel cooked all the best foods on the campfire and everyone ate their fill. Then, Chantel and her husband Dave, paid the way for all of them to head over to the water park! Like everything that Chantel does, these trips were not just about going somewhere, they were about being with her beloved family, because it really is about how much she loves them.
Siara told me that she could go on and on about her mom, because she is her very best friend, and I know that is true. They are very much two of a kind. Chantel is a wonderful person, and she has dedicated her life to her family. Today is Chantel’s birthday. Happy birthday Chantel!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Christmas Eve traditions can vary from family to family. My husband, Bob’s family always got together for a chili dinner on Christmas eve. Then they opened the presents, and the kids spent the rest of the evening playing with their new toys while all the parents sat around visiting. Sometimes Santa Clause would even show up, which was always a big hit among the little ones. Christmas morning was a day to relax and for the kids to play, while their parents prepared the huge Christmas dinner, and after dinner, all you could think of was how badly you wanted to lay down and sleep…especially when you had eaten two such dinners that day. Christmas dinner was just that way. It really should be followed with a nice long nap, stretched out on the couch to give the belly room.
As a little girl, Christmas eve was a time when we got to open one gift…always pajamas…which ensured good pictures on Christmas morning. We spent time singing Christmas carols. Our Christmas gifts were opened on Christmas morning. I think I always liked that way better, because the anticipation continued to build all night, and then we still had to wait for Mom and Dad to wake up and get things going in the morning. Of course, we really had no idea that they were awake before we were. I think they were just as excited as we were. When it came to Christmas, they were big kids too.
For my grandparents, Hattie and George Byer, as well as my niece, Raylynn Williams and her husband, Doug, Christmas Eve meant celebrating their wedding anniversary. For Grandma and Grandpa, a Christmas Eve wedding was probably more a matter of having family already gathered, and a wedding being held so people didn’t have to travel twice. For Raylynn, getting married on Christmas Eve was a way of honoring her grandparents…a way of sharing something special with them, even though they were both in Heaven by the time she married. It was like having them there at the wedding, and I’m sure that was exactly what Raylynn was thinking as she planned her special day.
Our daughter Corrie Petersen, her husband, Kevin, and their kids like the tradition we have of opening one gift, and then the rest on Christmas morning, and they have the added excitement of going to Kevin’s mom’s after our house. It really keeps them hopping. Our daughter, Amy Royce, her husband, Travis, and their kids like to watch a movie while eating cheese and sausage with crackers after the gifts are opened on Christmas Eve. For Bob and me…after the rush of Christmas Eve chili with the Schulenberg family, and of everyone coming for the traditional Christmas Eve gift opening session, it’s time to sit down and relax a while before everything starts in the morning, because Christmas dinner is held at our house now. Since my sisters, our families, and I have a party a week or so early, like the Byer family, we all spend Christmas with our own families now. With my parents in Heaven, the big day shifted to us. We love having everyone share it with us. Traditions change as families change, and it will continue to change in the future. The main thing is to enjoy the tradition, while remembering the reason for the season, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
I’m sure that many of you remember the movie, Deep Impact, which was about a group of astronauts trying to save the world by deflecting a meteor, so it wouldn’t hit the earth. Robert Duvall played the part of Captain Spurgeon “Fish” Tanner, a retired, and largely considered by the rest of the crew, an “over the hill” astronaut. Nevertheless, in the end, they were glad they had him when it came to completing their mission, even though it did cost them their lives. Of course, the movie was fictional, and not realistic in many aspects, but the part that struck me as cool, was that the retired astronaut got a second chance to be useful in an important mission.
However, Captain Spurgeon Tanner wasn’t the only retired astronaut to get a second chance to go into space. On October 29, 1998, nearly four decades after he became the first American to orbit the Earth, Senator John Hershel Glenn Jr was launched into space again as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery. At 77 years of age, Glenn was the oldest human ever to travel in space. During the nine day mission, he served as part of a NASA study on health problems associated with aging. Like our fictional Captain Spurgeon Tanner, Senator John Glenn was useful in space again. He had something that the other astronauts didn’t have…age. I don’t suppose that the studies done on John Glenn were the saving the world type, but they were real life studies, and that’s important too.
John Glenn became famous when he was chosen by NASA in 1959, along with six other men, to be the first American astronauts. He was a lieutenant colonel in the US Marine Corps. A decorated pilot, he flew nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he made the first nonstop supersonic flight across the United States, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes. Then, in April 1961, the American space program suffered a setback of sorts, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and his spacecraft, Vostok 1, made a full orbit before returning to Earth. It was a feat that the United States had hoped to achieve first. The United States kicked things into high gear, and less than one month later, American Alan Shepard Jr became the first American in space when his Freedom 7 spacecraft was launched on a suborbital flight. American “Gus” Grissom made another suborbital flight in July. Then, in August, Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov spent more than 25 hours in space aboard Vostok 2, making 17 orbits. As a technological power, the United States looked second-rate, compared with its Cold War adversary.
If the Americans wanted to dispel this notion, they needed a multi-orbital flight before another Soviet space advance arrived. On February 20, 1962, NASA and Colonel John Glenn accomplished this feat with the flight of Friendship 7, a spacecraft that made three orbits of the Earth in five hours. Glenn was hailed as a national hero, and on February 23 President John F. Kennedy visited him at Cape Canaveral. Glenn later addressed Congress and was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City. It was at this point that NASA made the unfortunate decision not to risk the life of the now famous Glenn by sending him into space again. NASA essentially grounded the “Clean Marine” in the years after his historic flight. Frustrated with this uncharacteristic lack of activity, Glenn turned to politics, In 1964, he announced his candidacy for the US Senate from his home state of Ohio and formally left NASA. Later that year, however, he withdrew his Senate bid after seriously injuring his inner ear in a fall from a horse. In 1970, following a stint as a Royal Crown Cola executive, he ran for the Senate again but lost the Democratic nomination to Howard Metzenbaum. Four years later, he defeated Metzenbaum, won the general election, and went on to win re-election three times. In 1984, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president.
His really big claim to fame would once again come from NASA, which seemed to be his destiny after all. In 1998, Glenn attracted considerable media attention when he returned to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery. In 1999, he retired from his US Senate seat after four consecutive terms in office, a record for the state of Ohio. While his years in politics were much longer, he will always be remembered for the two historic flights he made into space.
When we think of Blended Families, we think of two people who have both been divorced, who have children, that marry each other, and become a blended family. That is one type of blended family for sure, just like the old movie, “Yours, Mine, and Ours.” But in reality, every family is a blended family. I suppose people, who have never been divorced, would argue that point with me, but it is true nevertheless. If you think about it there is no other way to have families, except blending.
In my family, starting with my four sisters and me, we all started out as Spencer girls, but we did not carry that name into adulthood. We now have the names Masterson, Schulenberg, Reed, Stevens, and Hadlock. We also have Beach, Harman, Balcerzak, Davidson, Cossabone, Chase, Renville, Reynolds, Thompson, Spethman, Petersen, Royce, Spicer, Franco-Arizola, Smiley, Sawdon, Carroll, and Moore, and that is just on my side of my family, and just so far. On Bob’s side, the Schulenberg kids have added, Cook, Spencer, Parmely, Franklin, Petersen, Royce, Moore, Griffith, Wages, Eighmy, Birky, and Iverson. If that isn’t family blending…well, I don’t know what is. I just don’t think that type of blending is what people had in mind when they talk about blended families, but this type of family blending takes place far more often that the other type. It happens with every marriage.
Bob and I have laughed about the fact that after years of being married, we now find out that we are distant cousins, but when you think about it, with all of the blending going on in this world, what is the likelihood that we would never marry a distant cousin. Pretty slim I’d say. In fact, I think that if I looked back in the ancestry of any random couple, I would find a cousinship somewhere back there. Of course, I wouldn’t even have to look very far, because the whole thing started with Adam and Eve, so since we are all related back there, is just stands to reason that the connections on the way back to Adam and Eve would also have connections. So, the next time you think about a blended family, you might think of your own family blending.
Years ago, I watched a movie called Night Crossing, which came out in 1982. The movie was based on a true story about two families trapped in East Germany in 1979. The only way they could be free was to escape to the west. Over the years during which Germany was divided, and basically locked down. At first the people felt panic. Many of them had family on the other side, and no way to get to them. It was horrible. Escape attempts while not constant, were met with severe repercussions. I’m sure many people thought that they would always be prisoners in East Germany. Since today marks, the 68th anniversary of the ill fated Soviet blockade of their section of Germany following World War II, I was reminded of the movie I had seen.
I was so surprised about the elaborate lengths the family had to go to, in order to buy the materials needed to make a hot air balloon, with out arousing suspicions. To buy enough of the silk for the balloon, they had to go to several different locations, and tell the clerks that they were building tents for a scout group to use to go camping. I couldn’t imagine having to lie to a store clerk in order to purchase material, but then I have never lived anywhere, but in a free society, where the individual person had the right to do pretty much what they pleased. That was something that some of the people of that time, in East Germany, had never known.
While the situation was traumatic, I found myself…somehow fascinated with the process, the planning, the forethought, and the tenacity of these families. I found myself rooting for them every step of the way. Rooting for them wasn’t the thing that surprised me, however. It really was how interested I was in all the strategizing, and yes, the danger of it all. I don’t suppose the event felt anything like that to them, however. For them, this was life and death, because if they were caught, they would be killed. They would have one chance to escape, and one chance only. And they still had to make the crossing, and the landing, without getting caught up in the barbed wire fencing, or landing on a fence somewhere. The whole event, while an exciting story for me, was probably an event that they could not wait to put behind them…and I don’t blame them there.
In April of 1993, my sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and I took a trip to the Seattle, Washington area where our sister, Caryl Reed and her family were living at the time. I had not been there before, and so was excited at the prospect. We planned to have dinner at the Space Needle, do some shopping, visit Friday Harbor, and the one I was most looking forward to, Mount Saint Helens. Since the mountain had blown up on May 18, 1980, I had been intrigued. My parents had gone there, but I was married and so didn’t go along. On that trip, because the roads there didn’t open until May, and this was April, the viewing of Mount Saint Helens was not to be, unfortunately. I was disappointed.
I will never forget hearing about the coming eruption in the news, on March 15, 1980. When we first heard about it, people were riveted to their televisions, but as time went on, I suspect that people got bored with it. After two months, it got to the point where we all wondered if it was just a false alarm. Then, at 8:32am Pacific Time on May 18, 1980, the mountain blew up…literally. Suddenly, everyone was riveted to the television again. It was just shocking, and since 9-11 had not happened yet, it seemed like the most shocking thing we had ever experienced…in my lifetime anyway. I remember going out to my car and finding ash all over it. I had a hard time believing that a volcano that was over a thousand miles away in Washington state, could dump ash on my car in Casper, Wyoming. The ash went completely around the globe within a matter of days. Of course, it was nothing like what they had in the area surrounding the mountain.
When my daughter, Amy Royce and her husband Travis and son, Caalab moved to the Seattle area, and then decided to renew their vows, we decided to make the trip up for the ceremony. I wanted another chance to get to see Mount Saint Helens. My first attempt was thirteen years after the eruption, and that attempt was twenty two years ago. It was time. We had a rather small window of time to go see the mountain, with everything that has been planned at Amy’s house. So, Thursday was the day. Unfortunately, we seem to have picked the worst day of the days we would be here. Nevertheless, we went in the hope of a view of the…for me anyway…elusive Mount Saint Helens. Our grandchildren, Shai and Caalab Royce went with us. They were born well after Mount Saint Helens blew, and really knew very little about it…until today, that is.
Our first stop was to the visitors center, where we looked at the exhibits displayed there and watched a really good movie that told of the events leading up to and including May 18, 1980 and beyond. After we left, I think they had a much better idea about the magnitude of the whole event. We drove up to the area where we could finally view the mountain itself, only to find it sitting right there in front of us…completely shrouded in clouds and mist. We could see where the ash had landed and where the water and mud had carved out deep crevasses. We could see where erosion had taken its toll on the area, and where trees had been wiped out, and now rather small ones have grown up in their place. We could see the base of the mountain, and really, almost half way up it, but the now famous space left when the top that is no longer there blew, was still not visible to me. Sadly, I guess some things are simply not meant to be.
Over the centuries, we have seen many changes in how people preserved their images in picture. From the days of hieroglyphics to the days of digital photography, much has changed in the world of what we now call photography. In fact, many people these day never print a photograph at all, they simply view it, share it, and save it online. Such was not always the case. It use to be that to have a picture taken was an expensive venture, and one that was not done often. Then as photography became more and more common, pictures became a common thing. These days with digital cameras, taking pictures is commonplace, and people even take selfies because they can, and it’s something new and fun.
The original cameras were big, bulky, and expensive. One avid photographer, George Eastman wanted to bring the world of photography to the masses. George worked on his project until he perfected a Kodak camera that used a roll of dry, transparent, and flexible, photographic film, which he had also invented. That was on September 4, 1888, and both cameras and film…or the lack thereof, have come a long way since then. Still, it is men like George Eastman who had a dream to bring photography into the hands of the masses, who paved the way for the amazing abilities we have today. To me, pictures are gold…pure gold. They tell of at time we couldn’t have known about. All we have is the stories that history has told, and the pictures to show us what it was like.
In 1883, Eastman announced the invention of photographic film in rolls, but he had no way to use it then. Kodak the company was born in 1888 when the first Kodak camera entered the market. The camera came the Kodak camera could easily be carried and handheld during its operation. The camera came pre-loaded with enough film to take 100 pictures. “You press the button, we do the rest” promised George Eastman in 1888 with this advertising slogan for his Kodak camera. George Eastman wanted to simplify photography and make it available to everyone, not just trained photographers. He had a dream. He knew that there was no reason that everyone could not be a photographer. All that was needed was the right equipment. After the shots in the new camera were taken, the whole camera was returned to the Kodak company in Rochester, New York. There, the film was developed, prints were made, and new film was inserted. Then the camera and prints were returned to the customer, so they could take more pictures.
I have to think that this was considered such an amazing invention. I can picture just how excited everyone was. It must have felt like we felt when men walked on the moon for the first time. Like something out of this world. Or maybe that is just the way I would have felt if I were the me of today, seeing the amazing new technology of that day. I think George Eastman must have been an amazing man of incredible vision. So many memories have been preserved because of him. George Eastman was one of the first American industrialists to employ a full-time research scientist. He wanted the best people to do the job. Later, Eastman and his associate would perfected the first commercial transparent roll film which made possible Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera in 1891. It’s funny that something that changed so many things in our world, is now almost obsolete. Digital cameras have replaced all that, and now we are able to save our memories in a whole new way. It was George Eastman who paved the way.
In 1990, when the remake of the movie, Memphis Belle came out, I watched it with intrigue, knowing that my Dad, Allen Spencer had been a top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17G Bomber in the 8th Air Force stationed in Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England. The Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, USAAC Serial No. 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bombardment Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. She deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, moving to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, 1942, and then finally to her permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14, 1942. Each side of the fuselage bore the unit identification markings of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy). My dad was a part of the 385th Bomb Squadron (Heavy). Dad didn’t arrive in England until early April of 1944. His letter from April 14, 1944 tells his family that he had arrived and couldn’t tell them where he was for security reasons, except to say that he was somewhere in England.
At the time I watched the remake of the original 1943 documentary film put out by the War Department, I assumed that while the movie said it was based on a true story, there was probably a lot of Hollywood hype to the movie. So, when I read my dad’s letter to his mother, my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer, I was surprised that my dad mentioned it and said she should go see it. From my experience with the movie, I don’t think it would be a film I’d want to watch while my child was still on active duty and fighting from one of those planes. Both the original version and the remake were real enough to either show or tell of events involving the B-17 Bombers in combat situations, and the inevitable shooting down of the planes by the enemy.
Of course, the point was to let people know that The Memphis Belle, a B-17 Bomber had become the first plane to accomplish 25 missions without being shot down. It was designed to be a celebration of that accomplishment. And so it was, but it also proved the stark reality that many other B-17 Bombers had been shot down, and in all reality would continue to be shot down. While the accomplishment of The Memphis Belle is nothing to take lightly, I think it would still be hard to think about all those men lost or imprisoned during that war…especially if I was the mother of an airman. In some ways, it surprised me that my dad would even ask his mom to so see the movie. He was always so protective of her. I suppose that in time, you get used to the events of war, especially when you are in the thick of it day after day, and maybe he thought it would give her hope too.
Nevertheless, it seemed rather strange to me that Dad had talked of this movie with his mother. I know that the Memphis Belle was a star, just because they had made it through without being shot down. They were the first, and to those at home trying to support the war effort, that was a moral booster. That made it important to do the movie and to have the Memphis Belle and her crew do tours back in the states. People needed to see the success of the air war. They needed hope that their loved ones would return. I suppose that was what my dad was thinking when he told his mother that she should go see the movie. I don’t know for sure if she did or didn’t, but in the end my dad came home, and that is all that mattered to my grandmother and to me.
Today, 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.
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.