Sunday, November 30, 2014

1948 Photo Shoot

Our Christmas card

original color... before changing to sepia tone
My husband loves to restore things.  He can make lawn mowers and snowmobiles look brand new.  He can fix up an old wooden rocker or an antique dresser to look like they did in days gone by.  But, one of my favorite projects of his, was completed back in 1983 when he was just 19 years old.  All on his own, he completely restored a 1948 Ford Truck.  He bought the truck two years prior from an old man who wanted to make sure it was not turned into a hot rod.  That was no problem for Todd because he desired to restore it back to it's original form.  Now, all these years later, we still enjoy driving Todd's '48 Ford around town.  We often go to church on Sunday mornings in it.  

     Todd and I love "old stuff"....antiques, old movies, stories of our relatives' past, old photos, etc.  We go to steam-powered tractor shows and we are constantly on the look out for things we can grind in our grinder run with our flat belt stationary engine!  We love it when there are power outages so we can use all our kerosene lamps in our house.  And, we've been known to pull out an old record or two just to listen to it on our old record player.  So, when I suggested that Todd and I get dressed up in vintage 1948 clothing and do a photo shoot with the '48 Ford, he was all for it!  

     We had the truck, now we just needed the clothing and a photographer.  Luckily, I work with someone who has a daughter who enjoys making costumes for a small town's drama club.  So, one day when I was attending Sarah Sakry's production of "Little Women" (that she had adapted for stage herself!) I asked her if she'd have any costumes for my little photo shoot project.  A few weeks later, my co-worker Pam Thompson brought in a whole bag full of goodies for me to choose from.  I had a blast playing dress-up with it all.  I chose four of my favorites, took photos of myself wearing them and put them on Facebook to ask my friends which outfit they liked best.  It was basically a tie between two of the dresses.  So, when it came time to do the photo shoot, we had to take a little break so I could do a "quick change!"  

    When Todd and I got engaged in 2008, we asked our pastor and friend, Rob Olsen to take our engagement photos.  We just loved them!  Pastor Rob enjoys taking photos and does such a nice job. So, he was our first choice to be our photographer, and after being rained out three times, we finally found a day in early October to get our pictures taken.  It was such fun!  He took nearly 80 shots, but I've just chosen my favorites for this blog.
    We had Pastor Rob take all the photos in color, but I knew all along that I wanted the brown tone (sepia) for the final photos.  That's just the way I envisioned it.  So, if you look at the second photo on this blog (in color) you'll see that my blue shoes really do not match my outfit at all.... but that's okay because there wasn't going to be color in the end, anyway.  
    After our photo shoot time with Pastor Rob, I still wasn't done with our great costumes!  So, Todd and I set up the tripod and camera to take a few more shots of ourselves...this time with our old, antique radio from the 1930s.  Since listening to the radio was a very popular pastime in the 1940s, it seemed so very appropriate.  

     In our home we have a large framed poster on the wall with five of our favorite photos from that day.  We used one of the photos for our Christmas card.  And, I created a few Shutterfly presents using the photos too.  I'm so glad we took time to make this little dream of mine come true.  In fact, the photos turned out even better than I had imagined thanks to our awesome photographer, Pastor Rob, and thanks to the fabulous costumes from Sarah!  I'll forever be grateful to them both.  And, I'm bursting with glad that I have a husband willing to play along with my crazy ideas!  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014 From The Sapps

Merry Christmas!!!
Come along for the ride as we tell you about 2014....
     We hope you had a fabulous 2014!  We had a busy one, but a happy one.  One of the highlights was our month long vacation along the West Coast of the United States.  We put 6,675.6 miles on our pickup and camper as we explored Washington, Oregon, and northern California.  Another highlight was having a photo shoot with our '48 Ford Truck while dressed in vintage 1948 clothing.  Check out my blog all about it:  
     And, stop by this blog each day in January as I write "The 31 Days of Friends and Family Who Inspire Me!"
    Todd is still working at RTI Remmele and I am teaching second grade.  I have a wonderful class of 22 kids this year that make teaching very rewarding.  James and Jaimee live in  Becker.  Jaimee graduates in December and will be working as an administrative assistant in the medical field.  James works for Olson & Sons Electric in Monticello. Daniel lives and works in Hutchinson.  He graduated from St. Cloud Technical College in May and got a job at 3M.  He is a maintenance technician (just like his dad!). 
     Below you will see two photos from our trip, then one from Christmas last year, followed by two of James, Daniel, and Todd with their Fords, lastly you'll see three of Todd and I in our vintage 1948 clothing from the photo shoot we did in October.  Enjoy!  Keep in touch!  God bless you! 
                                                Love, Todd and Jennifer     


Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Little House" TV Cast Reunion & Girls Weekend

Jennifer, Mom, Kimberly, and Patty at the pageant

TV cast interview at the pageant
   Forty years ago the whole world fell in love with the TV show,
"Little House On The Prairie."
Almanzo, Nellie, and Ms. Beadle
 That included the Iverson
Grace, Grace, John Jr., Eliza Jane, Alice Garvey, and Carrie
 family in Alexandria, MN.  So, 
Eliza Jane Wilder
 this past weekend my sisters,
Nellie showing off her wig (Almanzo laughing)
 my mom, and I took a road trip
Tia with a bonnet and Kimberly
 to Walnut Grove, MN to see
Mom, Patty, Jennifer, Kimberly, and Tia
 some of the stars from that TV
trying out the pump organ
 show.  We attended the pageant
visiting the dugout replica
 and enjoyed the museums too.
Our set of books from our childhood (Patty's writing)
 It was a great girls weekend!
Little House books from our childhood

Tia in Japanese clothing (from Patty)
    The stars that attended the TV cast reunion included: Allison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson), Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder), Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush (Carrie Ingalls), Brenda and Wendi Turnbaugh (Grace Ingalls), Hersha Parady (Alice Garvey), Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane Wilder), Dan McBride (Henry Riley), Radames Pera (John Jr. Edwards), Charlotte Stewart (Miss Eva Beadle).
   For about an hour before the actual pageant, the stars answered questions from the audience.  It was so fun to hear the stars talking about their experiences on the show and lives afterwards.  It was also interesting seeing what the stars look like now! 
    There were some very sweet comments from the audience.  Many talked about how they faithfully watched the show as a family every Monday night when they were growing up.  Some grew quite emotional.  It was also emotional for the stars.  One of the girls who played Grace got all choked up when she told the audience this was her first time in Walnut Grove.  Grace and Grace have their own website:  that is full of neat "Little House on the Prairie stories."  Part of what I liked about Brenda and Wendi is that now they are just regular working people who love being moms.  And, they were born in 1977, just like me! 
     One of the girls who played Carrie talked about how she can't bring herself to watch the very last "Little House on the Prairie" episode because parts of the town are blown up in that show.  Both Carries talked about how good Michael Landon (Pa) and Karen Grassle (Ma) were to them.  They joked around a lot about which twin got to play certain scenes. 
     Nellie was very funny!  She is now a comedian and has written a book.  She is also very involved in AIDS awareness.  We found out that Steve Tracy (Percival, who was Nellie's husband) died from AIDS.  Nellie's favorite episode was the one where she went down the hill in the wheelchair!  We also enjoyed hearing her comments about the Nellie character vs. the Nancy character.  She felt that Nancy was a bit more crazy and cruel. 
     Eliza Jane Wilder and Miss Eva Beadle seemed like sweet ladies with fond memories from the show.  To top off our girls weekend, my sisters and I watched the episode where Eliza Jane falls in love with Harv (and Almanzo and Laura get married).  Eliza Jane had talked about that being her favorite episode.  Someone asked Miss Beadle if she had ever smelled Lemon Verbena and it turns out she has enjoyed soaps, lotions, sachets, and bouquets of Lemon Verbena all her life.   
     Most of the cast would not name a favorite episode.  But, Almanzo talked about one episode that he thought could have been omitted.  It included an orangutan and Mr. Edwards.  Almanzo was definitely the expert on all things "Little House."  He has narrated a number of documentaries about the show and about the real books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Almanzo also did an excellent job of graciously describing other actors, particularly Melissa Gilbert (Laura).  Laura was only 15 when she had to begin playing romantic scenes with 23 year old Almanzo.  He said it was all very professional and that Laura did an excellent job of changing from her role as a little girl to her role as a grown woman.  I got to see Melissa Gilbert two years ago in the production of "Little House on the Prairie, The Musical."  She played the part of Ma.  It was thrilling to see her. 
     My sisters, mom and I had a great time recalling favorite and least favorite episodes of "Little House" during our road trip.  We have seen ALMOST ALL of the TV episodes.  Patty's favorite was when Almanzo and Laura began dating.  I like the stories that center around the one room schoolhouse, particularly the one about the girl who lisped and the girl who sold her hair to get her mother a new dress.  Mom's favorite was when Ma used the beautiful blue material (that was supposed to be for her own dress) on dresses for Mary and Laura.  Least favorite episodes included the one where Ma is going crazy because of blood poisoning (and tries to cut herself), and ones that involved kidnapping, drowning, and death.  The show where Alice Garvey and Mary's baby die in the fire affected us all.  We also laughed about the episode where Pa falls from a high tree and walks away without a scratch directly after an episode where someone else did the same fall and died!  I guess the show wasn't perfect!   
     All four of us have read or listened to Mom read ALL the original books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In this blog I have included pictures of the yellow books that we shared.  They are well loved.  On the top of the box you can see where nine year old Patty wrote "Kimberly and Patty and Jennifer and..."  Then if you look very closely you can see that she had written the word "Pamela" under Jennifer and then erased it.  Mom was expecting another baby at the time, and Patty was confident that another sister was on the way.  Mom and Dad had told her that if it was a girl she would be called Pamela.  That June Mom had a baby BOY and named him David, so Patty had to erase Pamela.  I've always loved that little story.  My sisters and I would have loved Pamela, but I'm glad Mom and Dad had David instead.  He'll always be our favorite brother!
     I've always been a "Little House" fan, but this "Little House" experience will go down in history as one of my favorites...because I got to share it with Patty, Kimberly, Mom and my niece Tia.  I'm thankful.       

Driving home after our time in Walnut Grove

Monday, April 21, 2014

Surgery #12

     "Surgery #12?" you might ask?  Yup!  To read about my first eleven, feel free to check out a blog I wrote two years ago:  I am so very thankful to once again report that I received excellent care.  The photo above shows a machine I used at the hospital to try to encourage me to take deep breaths.  That was a challenge, but let me start at the very beginning....
     I had been having a pain in my side for the past three days.  At times it was unbearable and at times it was faint.  It was always the worst at night when I laid on my back.  There were moments I could hardly breath it hurt so badly.  But, it always got better.  In fact, by the fourth day I hardly noticed it at all.  But, I had mentioned the pain to my school nurse, my mom, my friend LuAnn, and Todd.  Everyone thought I should go get it checked out.  So, finally, on the fourth day, I called the local clinic to set up an appointment.  I told them my symptoms and I was scheduled for a 3:30 appointment that afternoon.  But, the receptionist was hesitant to let me wait that long.  She had me talk to a nurse who had me talk to an RN who basically said they would just send me to the Emergency Room at 3:30 so I may as well go now.  She explained that they didn't have any way to do an ultrasound or anything like that to see if it was my appendix.  Now I was starting to realize this might be a bigger deal than I thought.  So, I called Todd and he left work to be with me.  I called school so they could start finding a sub. for me.  Then I went in to school to write some sketchy lesson plans.    
     Before long Todd and I were in the Emergency Room waiting our turn.  We had to wait a loooong time.  I'm glad my appendix didn't rupture while waiting on those hard chairs with the sounds of "The Price is Right" blaring all around me!  Once in our room a doctor came and asked questions and pressed on places on my tummy.  He didn't think it was my appendix because the only time it hurt was in one particular spot on my right side.  But, we did a CT scan anyway.  I had to drink a large bottle of water that had "contrast" in it before the CT scan.  I couldn't eat anything until they got the results from that.  I had been feeling sick to my stomach for a couple days, so I thought it was a good thing that I was feeling a little hungry.  I didn't end up eating until 8:00 that night.
     The results came back and we were all surprised to learn that I definitely had appendicitis and I absolutely needed to get that appendix out soon.  They told me that in parts of Europe, doctors are experimenting with giving medication to try to heal appendicitis instead of doing surgery.  I wasn't volunteering to be one of the first to try that method in America!  So, surgery was set for 4:15.  We called my parents and Todd's parents.  We called Pastor Rob and he prayed with us.  An IV was put into me and blood was drawn (I have enormous bruises to prove it).  I donned a surgical gown and bright yellow socks and was wheeled down the hall to meet the surgeon and anesthesiologist.  I thanked them both for taking good care of me.  Then Todd had to leave and I was wheeled into the surgery room.  The room seemed overflowing with nurses!  They moved me to the surgery table and put special pillows on my legs to help with circulation.  I felt scared, but tried to be cheerful and made a joke about wishing I had taken time to shave my legs that morning.  They all seemed to like that and joked along with me.  I could feel myself getting hazy......
     The next thing I knew Todd was there and I was in my hospital room.  I spoke so slowly and it was hard to think clearly for a while.  Eventually things cleared up and I learned that three incisions had been made for the procedure.  Two were on top of my scar from my cyst surgery and one was in my belly button hole!  Nice!  I'm so thankful to not have lots of new scarring!  I ate sherbet and chicken broth that night and watched some TV with Todd before he headed home for a good night's sleep.  I don't think it's possible to have a good night's sleep in a hospital room.  But, I was being well taken care of.  All the nurses were excellent and friendly.  I'm grateful we live in a computer age, though, because the nurses were always checking the computer for what needed to be done.  There were lots of nurses and without the computer I'm afraid someone might have gotten mixed up.  They documented everything - even how many times I tried the "take a big breath" machine I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  It hurt to take deep breaths because of the incision spots, but I worked at it.  I couldn't get over 2500.  Todd, being a trumpet player, could get up to 5000 when he tried!
     Friday morning the doctor came to check on me and then I was able to go home.  I was so glad it was Good Friday and I didn't have to worry about missing another day of school.  I just had to miss out on playing violin for the Good Friday service at church.  I was able to hobble in to school over the weekend and prepare lesson plans for the week.  I get to have the same substitute teacher all week.  That stability is so good for the kids!
flowers from Remmele RTI Medical where Todd works...
     I am achy and sore.  I have little energy and it's hard to get myself to do much of anything but read a book (or write a blog post).  My throat is sore on the inside from a tube they stuck down it during surgery and it's sore on the outside (like a bruise) too.  It hurts to use my stomach muscles and so I get off the couch by rolling onto the floor and using my hands to get me up.  But, I know I'm getting stronger and stronger.  I know my energy will return.  I'm enjoying my quiet time and am so thankful everything turned out like it did.  God is good and He is watching over me.
flowers from the staff at my school...

Monday, March 24, 2014

A New Weigh of Life, Part Two

Healthy and Happy in my classroom...
Last October I wrote a post: about some major changes I have been trying to make for my health.  Check it out to read my story.

Now I want you to know that I reached my goal of losing 20 pounds!  I am down a jean size and am enjoying being able to fit into old clothes I had saved for when I met my goal!  I cannot give a report on my cholesterol numbers because I have not gone in to get them checked.  But, I am hopeful!  I am hoping to lose 10 more pounds and focus on exercise and toning in the coming months.  I am learning so much!  I fall off the bandwagon once in a while (I had a giant frosting-laden cinnamon roll AND creamy alfredo sauce over white noodles AND chocolate chip cookies all in one weekend - ugh!), but I am more often "on" than "off," so I try not to get discouraged!

Over the last months, my husband and I have spent much time together studying Clean Eating and trying to implement what we are learning.  We have watched documentaries and read books and followed websites to give us ideas.  I wanted to include some of those in this blog.

The documentaries that we watched were:
Forks Over Knives
Food Matters (and the follow-up Hungry For Change)
Food, Inc.
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
Queen of the Sun
King Corn

Some documentaries that have been recommended to us that we have not seen yet are:
Farmers For America
Genetic Roulette

I follow these great websites regularly:

The following websites have been recommended to me as well:

I enjoy spices from Penzey's because most have no or little salt.  You can get those at  Our favorite is Mural of Flavor (we sprinkle it on fish).  Coborn's has organic spices that can be bought in bulk as well.  

My husband and I try to make as much food from scratch as possible.  But, when we need something quick and easy, we turn to items we have bought from Wildtree.  Check out for some tasty, organic, easy meals!

I have been enjoying the cookbook by Dari Alexander called The Quick and Clean Diet.  Any cookbooks by Tosca Reno ( have been great too!  Kristi Youngdahl has a wonderful cookbook full of great ideas (  And, many of the websites listed above include recipes for Clean Eating.

And, now I wish you well!  You can do it!  Don't give up!  Don't get discouraged!  Know that you are not alone.  Many, many, many people have food struggles!  Don't let it define you!  YOU are beautiful and lovely just the way you are!  Remember this:

"Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels."

Let's get healthy!
Love, Jennifer


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

One Hundred + Host Families Later...

 One Hundred + Host Families Later....

My Nebraska host family

I've stayed in the homes of over one hundred families all over the world!  College Orchestra tours, All-State Lutheran Choir tour, Concordia Christian Summer Outreach team, and of course, Up With People!  I was in the Up With People organization from July of 1995 to July of 1996.  Every single day of that year I relied on the generosity and kindness of others to feed me and give me a safe place to sleep at night.  But, staying with host families is more than eating and sleeping.  Let me tell you about it.
Saying goodbyes by the busses
   When you get off the bus on a typical travel day with Up With People, you are usually tired, often hungry, and sometimes a bit lonely.  Each new city meant new roommates (from out of our 150 castmates) and of course, a new host family.  The PR people for the city usually came up with a unique way to match you and your roommate up with your host family.  One time the host family had the name of a famous actress and I had the name of the movie she starred in.  One time we were given the keys to our host family's car and while they sat inside we had to try to unlock the door!  Another time we were given costumes (from our future host family) to wear in a fashion show.  When they saw the costumes they had provided, the host family in the audience would declare, "those two are ours!" and we'd join them in the audience.  Don't worry, we were always given the name and address of the host family to make sure we didn't go home with the wrong one!  It was all very well organized!
   Once you found your host family, you gathered your luggage (1 suitcase, 1 garment bag, and 1 backpack for the whole year) and drove "home" to supper, conversation, and a good night's sleep.  For those of  
                                                                           you worrying about our safety, we were also given the 
My host sisters and I in Finland
contact information of our staff and PR team in case there were ever any problems.  I never had any problems, but I always felt better knowing I had that information if I needed it. 
    While on the American part of our tour I ate my fair share of lasagna and garlic bread.  It seems that is an incredibly popular "company meal" on this continent.  It took me quite a while to get to the point of enjoying lasagna again after my Up With People year!  But, who can complain?  It was so kind of host family after host family to feed me so well!  All they were given in return was the opportunity to get to know this Minnesota gal for 2 to 3 days (plus free tickets to our musical performance)!
     We had some wonderful conversations around those dinner tables!  I loved sharing about my life and family in Minnesota.  Sometimes I played piano for my host family or showed them pictures of my life.  And, what fun to get to know each of my hosts!  I loved listening and asking questions and learning from them.  And, after a while I learned that I could encourage them simply by showing interest in their lives or gushing over nice decorations in their home.  Sometimes I was tired and just wanted to be left alone, but time after time I pushed myself to interact and be engaged.  I would put on my "Up With People" personality even when I didn't feel like it and press on!  At times in my life now, nearly 20 years later, I will sometimes put on that "Up With People" personality instead of slinking away into a quiet corner alone.  It can be a very helpful skill for an introvert like me! 
Visiting a castle in Germany
    The other amazing thing about host families during my Up With People year was how generous they were with us on free days.  Every few weeks we were given a "day off" to just be with our host family.  My host families took me sightseeing and to museums and out to eat.  Some had planned family game times or get togethers with other families who were hosting Up With People students.  Everyone wanted to "show off" their little town and give us a taste of life there, (sometimes literally!)  One tasty memory I have of Germany was from a free day with
One of my host families in Venezuela
a host family there.  They had gone to the bakery and bought ten different desserts.  Then, they proceeded to cut the pieces so my roommate Johanna and I could have a bite of every single one!  Can I hear a "Numacious?!"
    My host brother in Venezuela took me for a hike up a mountain on my free day.  He brought along his dictionary in case he had trouble with any English words.   Before we left, his mom made us the most amazing fresh fruit juice  I have ever had!
    One host family in Chatam, Ontario, Canada took my roommate Merethe and me on a boat ride to one of their favorite restaurants across the lake.  My Seneca Falls, New York host family took my roommate Shelley and me to see the Women's Suffrage Museum.  My Vermont host family took my roommate Holly and me to see a Norman Rockwell museum.  Many of my German host families took 
Having Coke Floats in Portugal
me to see the castles there.  I went for a lovely wilderness hike with one of my Swedish host families on the island of Aland, Finland.  My Colorado host family drove me through the Rocky Mountains on one of my free days.  My Huntville, Alabama host family sat me down at the piano to have a sing-along and boy, could they belt out the show tunes!
     One host family in Portugal had made a huge traditional Portuguese meal, but offered to buy my roommate Katie and me McDonald's instead if we missed McDonald's from back home.  I had the Portuguese meal!  Later we made them an American treat: Root Beer Floats (with Coke)!
    One host mom from Maine was a famous quilter and showed my roommate Asa and me her many quilting magazines she appeared in.  She helped us piece together a small Amish quilt.  My parents later got it professionally quilted for me.
    One host mom from Denmark made traditional Norwegian sweaters.  I had been wanting to buy one while in Europe, but was having trouble finding any for sale.  She offered to make me one (for just the price of the materials).  I got to choose my own style, colors, buttons.  She custom fit it just for me!  I treasure it still.
    As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I have stayed with over one hundred host families.  And, I can tell you that I never had a bad one!  I had a few difficult ones, but never a bad one.  I am allergic to smoke, so I was not supposed to stay in the home of smoking families.  But, something got mixed up in one city and my roommate Kirsten and I ended up in a home blue with smoke!  In addition, our host dad bought us greasy McDonald's cheeseburgers, french fries, and Coke for breakfast!  Yuck!  In another host family I was feeling really down and tired of always being with people.  I decided to lock the bedroom door where I was staying (bad idea).  My host mom came to check on me and found out it was locked.  She was so angry - she yelled at me that night and again in the morning.  I truly regret that bad decision and I did apologize, but I would imagine she never hosted again.  I still feel bad about that one.  So, if those are the two worst experiences with host families, no problem!
    I did have a sad experience with a host family in Venezuela.  My roommate Sabine and I were saddened to learn that our host family's nephew was in a car accident and died while we were staying with them.  The family was so sad and kept crying and crying.  It was a free day, so Sabine and I just stayed in our room that day and tried to give them lots of space.  It was a hard day.  Language was a big barrier in Venezuela with all the host families, but they made up for it with their enthusiasm for Up With People (Viva La Gente!).  We were treated like Rock Stars in Venezuela.  And, one host family was so generous...  When it was time to leave, they wanted to give me something.  They took a wall hanging of a clay house off their wall and handed it to me to remember them by!  I was speechless.  They had so little, but still wanted to give.  I will never forget that.     
    At the end of a host family stay, we would ask our host families to sign our Host Family Remembrance book.  They often included a photo and their address.  Sometimes they gave advice or wrote about 
A typical page from my Host Family book...
something they had noticed about my character or personality.  It was so encouraging.  They almost always wrote, "Your stay was too short!" and invited me to come visit again.  They often wrote about the inspiring message of our Up With People show (which promoted peace and understanding among nations).  I think we brought hope for the future of our world to the people we stayed with.  If Up With People people ran the world...
    Before we left a home, we would strip the bed, leave a thank you note behind, and triple check to make sure we didn't leave anything behind.  Then our host family would take us to the site where the buses were waiting and we'd say our goodbyes.  
We were always sent off with a huge bag lunch and a hug (except for maybe the "I locked the door" host family who was still mad at me!)!! 
    I had some wonderful host families and I will forever be grateful for my experiences with them.  My host parents in Columbus, Mississippi got a violin from someone in town so I could play it for them (and my cast) while staying there.  My host mom in Florida helped me write my very first email (to my parents up in Minnesota).  My host sister in
Bonding with a host sister...
Germany planned to join Up With People in the future and we had some wonderful heart-to-heart chats about life on the road.  My host dad in New Jersey gave me and my roommate, Andrea $20 each to spend in New York City on our free day there.  One Swedish host dad took me to feed their horses on a beautiful sunny morning.  One Christian host mom prayed with me in her living room when I shared about missing my Christian friends from back home.  I had little host sisters who wanted to sit on my lap every chance they got.  I had three host families celebrate my January birthday with cake and presents!  One host sister in Ontario, Canada lent me her sweater to wear when I could simply not warm up!   Another host sister in Florida lent me her roller blades one day so I could explore the neighborhood while she was at school.  I had a host grandma, also from Florida, who wrote letters to me for years after I had stayed there.  Host moms took care of me when I was sick and I had to stay home instead.  One host mom in Germany searched and searched to find a movie in English (Forrest Gump), so I could watch it when I was sick.  Host families did my laundry and one even mended a rip in my show costume!  A few host families took time to write letters to my parents, so they would know I was doing well.  The letters often congratulated my parents on raising such a "lovely young lady" or assured them that I was "happy and healthy" and representing them well.  I wrote letters to my host family in Barrie, Ontario for years!  I hoped to visit them again some day.  There were many host families I hoped to visit again.  Now, 20 years later, that is probably not going to happen, but I visit my photo albums and my host family book and my journals to remember.
     A few years after traveling in Up With People I had a fun idea.  I wrote to each host family on the exact days I had stayed with them in 1995 or 1996.  I included some of my fun memories from my time with them and a little update of what I had been doing since then.  That was a really fun project!  Some of them even wrote back!
     Looking back on my Up With People experience... I was 18 years old - fresh, young, innocent, and full of hope.  I had energy and ambition and an open mind.  I knew it was a special time in my life and I made the most of it.  I will never forget.
     But, I could never do it now!  Give me my own bed, my own food, my own schedule, and my own family, please!  May I never take them for granted either.  If you get the chance, be a host family.  You can make a difference!   

Thursday, December 12, 2013

St. Lucia Day

American Girl Collection book written in 1986

Christin and Jennifer in 1994
    As a girl, some of my favorite books were from the American Girl Collection.  These days American Girl has turned into a huge doll business, but it all began with three characters who had books written about them.  Kirsten was representing the 1850s, Samantha the early 1900s and Molly the 1940s.  I learned much of my American history and timeline understanding from those books and the ones that followed.
   Kirsten was a girl who moved with her family from Sweden to Minnesota in 1854.    Out of the six books about her, my favorite was Kirsten's Surprise because of the storyline involving St. Lucia Day.  I don't want to give too much away, so please check out all six books!  You'll love this character as much as I did as a ten year old!  You'll also learn quite a bit about St. Lucia Day.
   December 13th is the shortest day of the year in Sweden, but most people don't mind because it is also a special day full of light, goodies, and sweet little girls!  Early in the morning on St. Lucia Day, the oldest daughter in the family gets up, puts on a white gown with a red sash and puts a green crown with lighted candles on her head.  She brings coffee and rolls to her family and sings the Lucia song as she walks.  Sometimes her sisters and brothers walk with her as the "Lucia Court."  The girls wrap tinsel around heir waists and the boys wear tall pointed hats with stars on them.  Thus begins St. Lucia Day in many homes across Sweden.  The day often continues with more festivals and Lucia performances for grandparents, at schools and around the community.  A person would most likely not get through St. Lucia Day without enjoying some saffron-flavored buns called Lussekatter or some ginger snaps called Pepparkakor.  And, the Lucia Song most likely runs through the heads of many, many people that day too!
Up With People St. Lucia presentation
     So, who was St. Lucia?  She was actually a Christian from Italy who made a vow never  to marry and instead used her dowry to help the poor.  So, when I was asked (in 1994) to be St. Lucia at a pageant put on by First Baptist Church in my hometown of Alexandria, I was honored.  I was assured that it was okay that I had dark hair because the first St. Lucia was Italian! 
     The day of the pageant, my friend Christin and I played piano duets for the ladies as they arrived at the luncheon.  Then we gathered with the rest of the Lucia Court in the back of the fellowship hall and lit my candles (actually they were battery-powered) and processed out among the waiting ladies.  Christin's mom read a narration about St. Lucia as the Lucia song was playing in the background.  Next, I sang the Lucia song as a solo and Christin and I sang a duet together in Norwegian (pretty close to Swedish, eh?).  We all sang The Light of the World Is Jesus and were reminded anew that Jesus is the purest, brightest Light.  It was a lovely pageant.
     The following year (1995) when I was traveling with Up With People, my friend Christin got to be St. Lucia at First Baptist.  I wish I could have been in two places at once.  I was with my cast of 150 people from 26 different countries, traveling across seven countries together (including Sweden).  That year on December 13th, the Scandinavians in our cast put on a St. Lucia presentation for all of us.  It was beautiful.  I would love to visit Sweden on December 13th some day and experience it all first hand.  My friend Johanna, from Sweden, thinks I might be a bit disappointed because some parts of the country have made St. Lucia Day into a beauty contest and have lost the family-centered traditions.  I'm glad I know that the true light, the most beautiful light, the purest light is Jesus.