Saturday, January 21, 2017

Special Birthday Memories

This is forty
I love birthdays!  I think of them as special days to celebrate life! As my fortieth birthday was approaching, I knew it was going to be special.  I knew it was a year to do some extra reflecting and appreciating. So, I wrote my "Top 40 Highlights from the Gal with Gray Highlights" blog.  I completely enjoyed that process.  I wrote it as a birthday gift to myself, but I decided to share it and I'm so glad I did.  There were such touching comments:
"I'm so happy you wrote it.  Thank you so very much.  I like the way you write.  It was so interesting to read about the way of your life living.  Thank you!"  
"Thank you for your thankful story and to let us take part in."
"Beautiful!  And inspiring...I, too, am turning 40 this year!"
"Jennifer, this is beautiful, just like you!  God has blessed you with so many talents and I'm thankful that we crossed paths many years ago.  Here is a pre-birthday wish that your next 40 years will be just as amazing!  Thank you for sharing this with us!"
"What a wonderful way to show thankfulness and joy in the 40 years that God has given you so far.  Best of all, you are experiencing that life in abundance because of Jesus (John 10).  Thank you for sharing this.  I am glad you love Mendelssohn's 'Elegy.'  I do too."
     Now I am writing this blog as a way to help me remember this very special 40th birthday.  I felt loved and cherished and celebrated and I want to always remember.
     The Thursday night before my Saturday birthday I went to a Paint Nite in St. Cloud with my good friend, Julie.  I love to do new things and this birthday was full of new things!  The painting we created at Paint Nite was full of favorite color.  Julie and I had a great time together.  And, she gave me a new scarf!

The Friday before my birthday was a school day.  It was a special day with my students.  Many of them made me cards that said sweet, affirming things and were full of colorful drawings.  My friend, Becky gave me a cute blue scarf with giraffes on it.  I love it!  And, at lunchtime my friend, Angie took me to Subway and gave me an adorable blue infinity scarf.  It was special celebrating my birthday with Angie because she lives in Spain and just happened to be home during a time period that included my January birthday.  She even wore a scarf I had given to her for Christmas!

After school that day I had a surprise visit from one of my students from last year's class.  Collin came bearing a birthday gift!  He and his mom had made a quilt for me!  Collin picked the pattern and colors and his mom quilted it.  I was so touched!  And, it's a super cute quilt!
The morning of my birthday, I got up and had hot cocoa from my "Happy Birthday" mug and opened presents from my sweet husband.  He had bought me two sweatshirts from Cabela's.  I am wearing one of them in the first picture of this blog.  We had a relaxing morning together (including time for me to play piano) and then hit the road.  Our first stop was lunch in Maple Grove at Biaggi's Italian Restaurant.  Yum!  Then we drove to Stillwater where we checked into our Bed and Breakfast (complete with our own fireplace!) and visited the Ice Castles in the afternoon light.

We did some antique shopping and ate supper at the Tilted Tiki where there was live music sung by a Hawaiian man.  
We put on our warmest winter wear and went to the Ice Castles that evening.  There was classical music being piped in and the lights inside the ice changed color.  There was a maze and a slide and some neat ice sculptures.  It was fun to experience another new thing on my birthday.

On Sunday we did more exploring around Stillwater after attending a beautiful church service in Afton.  That evening we got together with my dear friend, Amy.  Amy's birthday is two days after mine, so we have spent the day inbetween our birthdays together for many years.  We call it "AmyJen Day."  
Monday was a day off from school, so Todd and I slowly meandered our way home from Stillwater back to Becker.  We stopped at a cute coffee shop along the way.  
I love spending time with my husband!  We got home on Monday afternoon and I spent the next couple hours reading lovely messages on Facebook and email from friends and family.  These are some of my favorites:
"Dearest Jennifer, I just wanted to wish you a wonderful birthday!  You have blessed so many people in your writing, hugs, getting people together to fellowship, and ministry as a teacher.  May this year be full of wonderful surprises and blessings." 
"Happy Birthday, Jen!  Another decade wiser...What a blessing!  And, what a blessing you are to everyone who knows you.  One of my new goals is to be a blessing to others, and you are one of my role models.  Hoping you had a great day and praying that you will have a wonderful year.  Can hardly wait to visit with you again!"
"Of all the people I've known in my life, you deserve all the goodness and happiness this world has to offer."
"Fun to see all the birthday greetings coming in for you!  You are so important to and loved by so many!"
"Congratulations my happy happy friend!"  
"Happy Birthday to you my Wonderful friend! 40 never looked better than it does on you :) Enjoy your birthday weekend!" 
I got phone calls over my birthday weekend from my parents, from all three of my siblings, and from my friend, Sheryl.  I got cards in the mail that made me feel loved.  I even got a video sent to my email from my friend, Anette in Norway.  She and her daughters sang to me!
     Here it is a week later, and I'm still celebrating!  This evening I went to Good Earth Restaurant with good friends to celebrate the January birthdays (Amy and me).  And, I'm looking forward to more celebrating with my parents in Alexandria in the near future.

     Winter can be long in Minnesota, so I'm especially thankful for these warm, happy memories to reflect upon in these cold days ahead.  I'm full-up with thankfulness!

Celebrating with Mom and Dad in Alexandria!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Top 40 Highlights from the Gal with Grey Highlights...

Top 40 Highlights from the Gal with Grey Highlights…
(But I prefer to call it tinsel!)

January 14th I turn 40 years old!  I love that!  I feel blessed and privileged to have lived for four decades.  I’m thankful for my good health and for God’s faithfulness in my life through each season.  So, I wrote a list of forty roles I am so thankful to have had in my life….forty highlights that I’m glad I’ve experienced.  
When my friend, Cheryl turned forty we gathered together, each bearing a gift of forty items.  There were rubber bands to remind her to stay flexible, paper clips to keep her organized and Bible verses to help her stay grounded.  For my fortieth I’m giving myself the gift of 40 special memories in the form of a blog.
As I look ahead to however many years the Lord gives me in the future, I have hope and joy, trusting that He will continue to be faithful and continue to guide each season of my life. 

1. Being a Christian…
I am a Christian.  
I have put my trust in the Lord.  
I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  
I believe in God, who is compassionate and loving.
He cares about every detail in my life.  He is in control.    
Prayer has power.  God’s Word, the Bible, is truth.  
I am assured a place in Heaven someday because Jesus is my Savior.  
God has called me to love the people he has placed in my life.
God is the only judge…I am not here to judge others…only to love others.  

I chose to begin my 40 Highlights with these statements of Faith because all 39 other statements are branches off of this tree.  All good gifts come from God.  James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the Heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  I am so thankful for God’s generosity.  2 Corinthians 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  That gift is Jesus.
2. Being a Granddaughter…
I have written numerous blog posts through the years about my special grandparents.  Some of my most cherished childhood memories are times spent with my grandparents.  They (and my parents) were my biggest fans.  They attended concerts I performed in and they read articles and stories that I wrote.  They looked at the pictures I drew and studied the photographs I took.  They wrote me letters.  They gave advice and told stories and invested in me.  They taught me skills and took time for me.  I felt important and valued around my grandparents.  For all these things I will forever be grateful.  As a 40-year-old looking back, I am glad I got to experience being a granddaughter.   

3. Being a Daughter… 
My parents taught me so much.  They instilled in me a love for music.  My parents taught me how to work hard toward my goals.  They helped me with homework and practicing.  They provided music and dance lessons and paid for summer camp, Up With People and college.  They took us kids on vacations to see the National Parks and Disney World.  They drove us to visit our grandparents who lived 7 and 10 hours away.  They valued time together talking around the supper table.  They told stories and gave advice.  Mom and Dad took photos of us and documented our lives through scrapbooks.  They attended every concert and recital and final summer camp program.  They taught us to do our best and give our 100% to our jobs and our music.  Living on a lake, they modeled how to appreciate nature by watching the sunsets, the ducks, geese, and squirrels and the waves upon the water.  I so appreciate my parents and all their efforts and sacrifices and love through the years.  I’m thankful to have had 40 years with my parents and I hope for many more.  

4. Being a Sister…
I am a sister to Patty, Kimberly, and David.  We are each three years apart:  Patty is oldest, then Kimberly, then me, and David is youngest.  We all look very alike with our dark eyes and dark hair.  I wrote a blog post about each one and all the special things I appreciate about them.  I feel honored to be their sister.  
     The love of music was instilled in us from our parents and grandparents at a very young age.  The four of us made up “The Iverson String Quartet” with two violinists, a cellist, and a violist, but we only performed together a few times.  
     We experienced so many of the same things growing up, that we have a sibling bond that only we can understand.  I’m thankful for each of my siblings.  I've learned much from them.  I'm proud of each one and who they have become.  Each has passions and talents that are unique and impressive.  I love watching them be parents to their own kids.  And, without being a sister for all these 40 years, I couldn’t be an AUNTIE! 
5. Being an Aunt…
One of my greatest joys in these 40 years of life has been being Aunt Jen to Drew, Ben, Anna, Kit, Naomi, and Tia!  I love those six kiddos like crazy!  Playing imaginative games or board games or dollies or blocks….oh the hours of fun spent together!  Reading books, doing art projects, singing songs, dancing to Laurie Berkner, going for walks, spending time at the park, visiting zoos, using sidewalk chalk.  I’ve done it all with a nephew or a niece.  I am so glad God gave me the opportunity to be an auntie.  It’s the best!  The very first blog post I wrote back in 2011 was about the joys of being an auntie.  

6. Being a Godmother…
Being a godmother is kind of like being an aunt.  I’m godmother to two of my nephews (Drew and Ben) and to my friend Pauline’s boys, Joshua and Michael.  I made a promise long ago that I would pray for these boys and tell them about how God answers prayer and about the truths found in the Bible and in knowing God.  I have given them faith-based gifts and I continue to pray for them often.  Although I am not an official godmother to Katelyn, Miriam or Bold (children of close friends), I pray for them often too.  I have no children of my own, but being godmother/Aunt Jen to these special children (and my other nephew and nieces, of course), fills me with such joy and contentment.  I’m a thankful 40-year-old!

                       7. Being a Cousin…
On my mom’s side I am cousin to Richie, Hope, Josh,  Karen, Kevin, and Kathy, who are all older than me (except Josh).  I have fond memories of playing card games and “Shoot The Moon” with them.  Kathy and I were closest in age and we would play dress-up and catch lightning bugs together at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Iowa.  I didn’t see these cousins often, but I enjoyed being pen pals with Kathy for many years.  
On my dad’s side I am cousin to Kia, Adam, Eli, Myles, Kali, and Ian, who are all younger than me.  Most of our interaction was in North Dakota at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  We spent a lot of time at the nearby park or playing “Colored Eggs” in the front yard.  Kia and I were the closest in age.  We would do crafts together and play dress-up and dolls together.  She lived in Minnesota, so we would visit each other as often as we could.  Through the years Kia and I became more like friends than cousins.  We loved to giggle and tell stories and act out musicals together.  We sang together and wrote letters to each other.  We were even in each other’s weddings.  I read somewhere that, “cousins are your first friends.”  I think that's true.  I’m glad for 40 years of being a cousin.   
8. Being a Babysitter…  
Megan and Drew; Eric, Kirsten, and Briana; Brett and Dan; Ryan, Alex, and James…those were the kids I babysat for.  I started babysitting when I was in about 6th grade.  I took the babysitting course offered by Community Education.  I LOVED babysitting and I did a lot of it.  I would often bring puzzles, books, and games along so the kids had something new to do when I came.  I loved to play with the kids.  For hours on end we would play and the time flew by.  Looking back, I feel very thankful that the parents entrusted me with their kids.  Now that I have nieces and nephews and a grandson whom I adore, I realize how hard it must have been for those moms and dads to leave their precious children with a teenager for hours at a time.  But, I’m sure glad they trusted me.  I have happy memories of babysitting some amazing kids.  It’s hard to believe they are all grown up now!
9. Being a Wife…
I’ve been a wife for nearly nine years.  I waited a long time to find my mate.  Todd was worth the wait.  He is the husband of my dreams and I delight in being his wife.  Todd is the best gift God ever gave me (apart from Jesus).  Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."  I am the happiest wife in the universe, partly because my longing was fulfilled.  I don’t want to take a single day for granted with my husband.  Each moment together is a gift.  Todd and I like to talk for hours at coffee shops, take our truck and camper on trips, hike in the woods, ride ATVs, watch old movies, play piano and trumpet duets, go to concerts together, shop at Fleet Farm or Cabela’s, visit family and friends, do Bible studies, explore antique stores, go to antique tractor shows or antique snowmobile shows, go snowshoeing, harvest our garden, make salads together, plan trips together, and find the original main street of small towns and imagine what it used to be like in its prime.  We never run out of things to talk about and we are happy when we are together.  Here I am, a 40-year-old living the dream…with my husband!

10. Being a Step-mom…
I am step-mom to James and Daniel.  I came into their lives when they were 13 and 15 years old.  They have grown up so much since then.  I am proud of their many accomplishments and abilities.  I love sitting shotgun - watching my husband be an amazing dad to his boys.  I’ve done my share of laundry and meals and cheerleading along the way too.  Sometimes serving is the best way to show love.  James is married now to his wife, Jaimee.  I’m happy I get to be a step-mother-in-law too!  I appreciate Jaimee so much and am super glad to have her in my life.  And, without them I would never have gotten to have a new, fun role….as Grandma Sapp!
11. Being a Grandma…
Yes, it’s true, this 40-year-old is a grandma!  Jax Robert Sapp came into the world this past June.  He brings much joy to Todd and me.  He has a happy personality and shares tons of smiles with everyone!  What fun to watch James and Jaimee be wonderful parents to Jax.  We feel blessed to be Grandma and Grandpa Sapp! 
12. Being a Sister-in-Law…
I am sister-in-law to Julia, Andy, and David.  It’s fun watching these people be spouses to my siblings and parents to my nieces and nephews.  I’m so glad David found Julia, Patty found Andy, and Kimberly found David to be partners in this life.  I enjoy being part of the Iverson Clan with all these folks.  
13. Being a Daughter-in-Law…
I am daughter-in-law to Doug and Mary Lou.  They live in the Staples/Bertha area on a hobby farm out in the country.  Todd and I enjoy going for long walks on their property, appreciating the scenery and wildlife.  Going there is like visiting a state park with trails and a creek running through it.  With my parents-in-law I like to talk about travel, family history, recipes, gardening, birds, and relatives.  
It’s fun to notice similarities between Todd and Doug.  Like father like son, as they say!  Mary Lou has only been part of their family for the past 21 years (after Todd’s mom, Lynne died).  I appreciate all that Doug and Mary Lou do to help us feel welcome in their home on our frequent visits.
14. Being a Friend…
One of the greatest gifts the Lord gives us is friendship.  I am so thankful for the special people God has placed into my life.  Friends hold a special place in my heart.  I often thank Him for my friends by name and am filled with an overwhelming gratitude for each one.  My friends inspire me daily.  I have learned so much from these individuals.  I am a better person because of the influence of the good people in my life that I call my friends.  Friends, thank you for knowing me and loving me and making my life be “Half as Hard and Twice As Good” (quote by Sara Groves).  This 40-year-old does not want to ever take friendship for granted!  To love and be loved…what a gift!
15. Being a Traveler…
In my 40 years of life I have been some amazing places!  I have met some incredible people, eaten some remarkable foods, heard some memorable music, and walked along some beautiful countrysides.  Travel is one of my greatest joys!  I love to experience new things…and there is always something new when you travel!    
Family trips in the motorhome brought my parents, siblings, and me to Washington D.C., Colorado, California, and Florida when I was growing up.  We stopped at all the National Parks along the way.  
Up With People brought me from Colorado across the United States to the East Coast, up into Ontario, Canada, down to the deep south of Mississippi and Alabama, into Venezuela, and over to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, and Portugal.  I will never forget discovering the diversity of cultures right here in my own country.  Then to experience a third-world country for 3 weeks was unforgettable.  Europe was enchanting, and merely whet my appetite for more!    
A missions trip for my church ten years after Up With People gave me more Europe!  Kiev and Vatutino, Ukraine were amazing!  Getting to know the people there was truly a blessing for me.  I will never forget.    
My husband and I have been to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia, Ontario, and Yukon in Canada.  More recently, we experienced the Spanish culture and sparkling waters of Puerto Rico and then the friendly people and incredible views of Alaska in July.  I never cease to be amazed by the places we go and the newness and life all around us.  I’m glad I found a husband who also appreciates travel.  One of our favorite trips was driving our truck and camper down the west coast from Washington State to California.  Beautiful!    
These 40 years of travel have been a blessing.  I hope I can continue to travel, but even if I never go anywhere outside of Minnesota again, I will consider myself a traveler.  One can travel by reading books or watching movies.  One can travel by driving slowly through the old part of a small town and imagining what life was like in that town long ago.  One can travel vicariously through other peoples’ pictures and stories.  I will always be traveler.  It’s a part of who I am.  
16. Being a Christian School Teacher…
The first three years of my teaching career were at a small Christian school in southern Minnesota.  I had 10, 11, and 12 students in my second grade class.  I loved those kids.  I loved being a teacher.  I was a single, dedicated, fresh-out-of-college gal who worked diligently every day to be the best teacher I could be.  It was the perfect way to start my career as a teacher.  We performed a play every year and we wrote letters to missionaries and friends from all over the world.  We had guest speakers come to our classroom.  We had theme-days like "Pippi Longstocking Day."  Good memories!  I loved praying with my students each day and studying Bible stories together and memorizing scripture.  We sang praise songs together and had deep discussions about God’s faithfulness and love.  I grew in my own faith as I prepared lessons and taught each day.  I felt like I was partnering with the parents to give their children the best education we could provide, together.  What a blessing those three years were.  I love that I can still keep in touch with many of my students from those first three years as a teacher.  So special!  
17. Being a Public School Teacher…
The past fourteen years I’ve been a public school teacher in Becker.  I taught one year of third grade and have been teaching second grade ever since.  God provided some wonderful Christian mentors and friends to walk alongside me as I learned how to transition from private school to public school.  The hardest part for me was getting used to having 24, 25, and 26 students in my classes!  There are more pressures and top-down expectations in the public school setting and I don’t always feel as supported by the parents as I did at the Christian school.  But, I love being a teacher.  I love my students and I am confident that God chooses who He wants to have in my class each year.  I have the privilege of loving these kids for a year and they become “my kids.”  I want them to love school and love learning.  I strive to connect with each one and help them to grow as a person as well as a scholar.  
Ever since I was in junior high, I dreamed of having my own classroom and my own students.  As a 40-year-old I’m living the dream!  I get to organize my room the way I want, decorate it how I choose, have my own key to lock up each evening, and best of all, I get to be “Mrs. Sapp” to a group of students who know they are loved by their teacher.  I get to share great literature with them, and teach them how to subtract two-digit numbers.  I get to introduce the 7 continents on a map and explain how solids can turn into liquids.  I get to see their eyes widen as I play my violin for them and watch their creativity as they draw a picture or read a passage with expression.  I get to explain how to write with “voice” and what makes a question a question instead of a statement.  I get to hear their stories and calm their worries and encourage their personalities to shine.  I’m a cheerleader and a guide and a mother and a counselor.  I’m a 40-year-old with over 300 kids and I’m so thankful God called me to be a teacher. 
 18. Being a Colleague…

It is so satisfying to be a colleague... to be part of a team.  At all three schools where I have been a teacher, I have been thankful for the team of people I have gotten to work with.  I appreciate the other classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech teachers, art/gym/music/library specialists, behavior specialists, social workers, paraprofessionals, principals, and the office secretaries.  I have felt supported and appreciated by my colleagues through the years.  There have been moments where I thought I’d pull out my hair in frustration over a situation with a student or a parent, and every time that happens, someone from my team steps forward to help me see things in a new light or sits with me through a tough conference, or takes the student for a short time so I can take a deep breath and continue the day.  I love my students, but it is so comforting to know I don’t have to educate them all alone.  I’m not a teacher all by myself in the middle of a prairie in a one room school house…I get to be part of a team.  And, I’m thankful. 
19. Being a Singer…
I have seen photographs of myself as a toddler sitting on my dad’s knee on the wooden rocking chair and singing “Zip A Dee Doo Da” and “This Old Man” with him.  I have always loved to sing.  I sang solos for church at a young age.  I sang to my dolls.  I sang for my grandparents.  I sang in choirs and small ensembles.  One of my biggest highlights from high school was being a Caroler and getting to sing Christmas carols all across the community each day between Thanksgiving and Christmas with 15 good friends.  It was an honor to be chosen and I have never taken that for granted.  Being a member of the All-State Lutheran Choir was an incredible experience as well.  We sang sacred music in churches all across Minnesota under a very inspiring director.  Now as a teacher I sing with my students.  As an auntie I sing with my nieces and nephews.  For many years Todd and I sang on worship team at church together.  And, it was a thrill singing praise songs together with our friends and family during our wedding.    
There is such an incredible freedom in learning to sing with one’s heart.  I can be in a bad mood and if I sing I feel better.  Some say this phenomenon occurs because of all the deep breathing that pushes those positive endorphins to your brain.  I think it’s because of the power of music to touch my heart.
20. Being a Violinist…
I began taking violin lessons the summer after fourth grade.  I was squeaky and out of tune and practicing was hard work.  My mom sat with me and plunked out the notes on the piano for me to try to match on the violin.  It took a long time before I felt like playing violin was fun.  I was required to practice violin for 30 minutes a day.  As I grew older and more proficient on the violin I would choose to practice longer than 30 minutes.  I got to the point where I was enjoying it.  It was still hard work, but it was rewarding and it made me happy.  
I played in orchestras and I played duets with family and friends.  I performed solos for churches, nursing homes, funerals, and weddings.  My violin became a huge part of my identity.  My violin and I sort of became one!  Being a member of the All-State Orchestra in high school was definitely a huge highlight for me.  It was so exciting playing symphony music with other musicians who loved their instruments and who were so proficient.  The music came alive at those summer All-State camps.  Such colors and textures in the music!  That first year we played "Pictures At An Exhibition" by Mussorgsky.  What a thrill!  Being a member of The Concordia College Orchestra for four years was an amazing experience as well.  The director had a way of making us think about the music on deeper levels.  I learned so much from him and that experience.  I doubt I will ever play such advanced music again in my life, so I appreciate that I had the opportunity and the proficiency at one point in my life.    
I no longer play violin in an orchestra.  My violin sometimes sits for months at a time.  I still love my violin and consider it to be a big part of who I am.  I often listen to Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Midori, and other great violinists, so I continue to appreciate great violin music.  My favorite things to play on my violin these days are melodic solos accompanied by my mom on the piano.  I enjoy making music with Mom because we’ve played together so much that we know how to feel the music together.  It’s very satisfying and refreshing to play together.  Mom and I even made a CD of some of our favorite songs.  I’m so glad we have that keepsake.   
21. Being a Pianist…
I took piano lessons for ten years while I was growing up.  I practiced for at least 30 minutes a day for those ten years.  It was hard work, but I am so glad I persevered.  I’m so glad my parents required me to practice.  After those ten years of lessons I kept on playing.  I played in the college practice rooms just to relax.  I accompanied friends as we had sing-alongs around the piano.  I had a piano in my first classroom and I played as my students and I sang together.  I played by myself after school to unwind.  Playing piano became a form of worship for me.  I enjoy sharing my music as a church pianist.  I love piano duets with friends and family members.  Playing piano is a huge part of my life.  It’s one of my favorite hobbies.  It is more relaxing than singing or playing violin.  It is a great way to express my emotions when I am sad or angry or hurt or happy or excited or full up with an unknown emotion.  It takes concentration, but it’s like an athletic workout in that it’s worth it and I feel good afterwards.  I consider birthdays to be a day to celebrate life.  I often do things on my birthday that make me happy.  So, I play piano at some point every birthday.  You can be sure this milestone of turning 40 will be no different.  I think I'll start with "Elegy" by Mendelssohn, it's one of my favorites! 
22. Being a Reader…
My love for reading began when I was a fourth grader.  Before that, I really struggled to learn to read.  I loved listening to my mom read.  She read to us often and she always used such expression.  Listening to her was wonderful!  But, as I grew older I enjoyed unfolding stories all by myself.  The Molly, Samantha, and Kirsten books (from the American Girl Collection) were some of my favorites as were the Betsy-Tacy books (by Maud Hart Lovelace) and The Little House On the Prairie books (by Laura Ingalls Wilder).  I enjoyed reading biographies in the form of the “Value Books.”  Classics like Caddie Woodlawn, Little Women, Heidi, Pollyanna, and Anne of Green Gables soon were at the top of my list.  Those female main characters helped to build my own character.  I would think of these beloved gals as I overcame hurdles in my own life.  How would Betsy handle this situation?  I bet Anne would love this!  Where is Jo when I need her?  If Laura can do this, I can do this!  And so on…. I am who I am as a 40-year-old gal because of the amazing literature I’ve read through the years.  I am less likely to read stories these days, as I lean more towards memoirs and Christian nonfiction, but when I do find a good piece of fiction, I devour it and often read for hours on end!  Such fun!   
23. Being a Writer…
I’ve heard the saying, “I write to find out what I’m thinking about.”  I have certainly found that to be true through the years.  Taking time to journal my thoughts has helped me to clear my mind and have epiphanies I might not otherwise have had.  Writing has helped me work through some hard situations.  It has also been a fun way to express my joy and excitement and to document those amazing experiences of my first 40 years of life.  I am not a consistent writer.  I write in spurts.  I sometimes write feverishly for hours at a time.  Other times I think about what I want to write about and slowly jot down an outline over a number of weeks before actually writing the piece.  I mostly write with a keyboard now, but I used to fill notebook after notebook with my thoughts and ideas.  I began my blog in April of 2011.  My first entry was about how much I love being an auntie!  Through the years I’ve written mostly about relationships and experiences.  Many of my entries are sentimental and (hopefully) encouraging.  I strive to write like Shauna Niequist, Emily P. Freeman, and Lysa Terkeurst.  I want my readers to reflect on their own lives as they learn more about mine.  So, if you are a reader, thanks for reading!  
24. Being a Scrapbooker…
My mom and dad took great photos of us four kids when we were growing up.  My mom carefully kept track of the chronology of those photos and she diligently made reprints of the ones that had more than one child in it.  Then, she proceeded to make scrapbook after scrapbook for each of her four children.  What a treasure!  What a gift!  I love looking through the scrapbooks Mom made and remembering events from when I was a child.  I’m so thankful Mom took the time to create these keepsakes.
When I turned sixteen I began making my own scrapbooks and I haven’t stopped since.  There is something so satisfying about documenting one’s life through photos.  I’m a sentimental gal (in case you haven’t noticed yet) and I love to relive moments from the past.  Scrapbooks are one way to do that.  When I go on trips I take detailed notes.  Then I use those notes to help me put the photographs into my scrapbook in the right order with captions to help explain the experiences.  Scrapbooking is therapeutic to me.  I can get lost in the process.  It’s art to me.  It’s a way to express myself.  
25. Being an Artist…
God is creative.  He made His children creative.  The key to being an artist is to appreciate art all around oneself and find beauty.  I see art in the clouds, trees, and fields of grain.  I see art in the lines on furniture and the ruffle on a blouse.  I see art in the writing by my students and the expression in their voices as they read.  Teaching is an Art.  Music is an Art.  Writing is an Art.  Decorating one’s home is an Art.  Having meaningful conversations with others is an Art.  Loving is an Art.  Yes, I am an Artist.  And, so are you!  We are surrounded by art and I’m thankful for 40 years of appreciating and living art. 
26. Being A Photographer…
I love to document life and travels through photography.  I spend hours pouring over photographs I have taken.  I appreciate the artistic photographs that are shared on Facebook.  I love to put photographs into scrapbooks.  I like to decorate with photographs and make collages and photo blocks.  Photographs capture a moment so it can live forever….much longer than 40 years!  
27. Being an Interior Decorator…
Well, maybe I’m not exactly an interior decorator, but I do enjoy decorating my spaces… my home and my classroom.  To me, the most important thing is to feel inspired by my surroundings whether that be by placing sentimental items around a space or by having quotes in a location where they can be read easily.  I like using photographs and artwork as my main tools for decorating.  I get such a thrill when a space comes together with colors that meld well or when a theme evolves effortlessly into something special.  It’s the little things that have made decorating my spaces so meaningful over these past 40 years.
28. Being a Homemaker…

Laundry, dishes, dusting, preparing meals, vacuuming, organizing spaces, paying the bills…it’s all part of being a homeowner.  But, doing those tasks with love and joy and art - that makes a homeowner a homemaker.  I wouldn’t say I have reached that goal yet, but at age 40 I’m on my way.  I get a feeling of satisfaction when the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean.  I actually enjoy putting away freshly-laundered clothing (the lavender scent is heavenly!)  But, there definitely are days when my cooking skills are lacking and my motivation weak.  Grace is what I need.     
29. Being a Chef…
Well, maybe not a chef…but I do enjoy cooking meals, baking treats, and trying out new recipes.  I love looking through cookbooks for the next thing to try making.  I enjoy using my tools - mixers, choppers, slicers, blenders to help me as I work.  I believe the saying “Nothin’ Says Lovin’ Like Somethin’ From The Oven!”  At age 40, some of my favorite things to make are:  Creamy Vegetable Chicken Tomato Soup, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Venison Chili, One-Pot Turkey Dinner, Ramen Noodle Broccoli Slaw, and homemade frosted brownies.  I like variety and I like to have a plan, so I try to write on a calendar what meals I plan to prepare ahead of time.  I keep most of my recipes in plastic sheet protectors in a binder.  It helps keep me organized and fed.    
30. Being an American…
I grew up enjoying summer trips to Medora, North Dakota with my grandparents, where there was an inspiring musical shown each night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The musical always had a patriotic medley at some point.  I remember the goosebumps every summer during that medley of songs.  I wanted to be a Burning Hills Singer singing those songs!  Even as a young child I felt proud to live in America.  I felt thankful for the soldiers who had protected us through the years.  I felt appreciative of the freedoms we had.  At age 40, I still feel that way.  I am proud to be an American and thankful, so thankful for the life we enjoy here. 
31. Being a Travel Planner…
I love to plan trips!  My friend, Amy and I planned our three week road trip to Prince Edward Island together in 2002.  That was the first trip I helped plan.  After that I was hooked!  Todd and I love to travel and I love to plan the trips.  I research the places online and read travel brochures and books.  I search for the best deals and map out the best routes.  It’s fun and exciting and oh, so rewarding.  Now, at age 40, I can’t imagine going on a trip that someone else planned!  I’d totally feel gypped!  Where shall we go next?  I can’t wait to start researching!    
32. Being a Family Historian…
I love antiques and old photos and learning about the past.  I especially love those things when I know there is a family connection.  In 1998 and 1999 I interviewed my four grandparents about their lives.  I will always, always cherish that time of conversation and learning.  I created books out of those interviews.  I compiled the information with headings and put things into sections that I had gathered in the tape-recorded interviews.  I included photographs and added some of my own “voice.”  What a wonderful project - I’m glad I did that.  I cherish those books and the stories and personalities that they contain.  I’m grateful for my heritage.       
33. Being a Concordia College Graduate…
I attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota from 1996 to 2000.  I was an elementary education major with a minor in music.  I took violin lessons and was a member of the Concordia College Orchestra.  I worked for Cobber Kids Corner Preschool and was a leader in the Concordia Christian Outreach Program.  I loved college.  I loved my roommates.  I’m so thankful for my experiences there.  Concordia helped prepare me to be a teacher and to be a member of my community.  My time at Concordia helped shape the 40-year-old that I am today.    
34. Being an Up With People Alum…
From July of 1995 to July of 1996 I was a member of the Up With People organization.  I traveled with 150 people representing 26 different countries.  We traveled by bus and stayed with host families.  We performed a broadway-style musical show about peace and understanding among nations in every community we visited.  We did community learning activities too.  We traveled all over the United States, went into Ontario, Canada, went down to Venezuela, and then ended our year in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, and Portugal.  It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so glad I had that opportunity.  I was given a broader world perspective because of that year.  Up With People was not perfect and there were some seasons of hard, but, now, as a 40-year-old, I mostly see the good and I realize the hard helped me to grow.     

35. Being a Collector… 
I collect giraffes, violinist figurines, and Strawberry Shortcake dolls.  I have found collecting giraffes to be a fun way to connect with my students.  I collect other things too - like scarves, books, and CDs, but not as purposefully.  I have trouble letting go of my “stuff” and I have to be careful not to let things become idols in my life.  God comes first.  The way to JOY is: Jesus, Others, You.  But, I think God doesn’t mind when we enjoy our stuff as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.   
36. Being a Nature-lover…
Nature brings me closer to God.  The sound of trickling water along the creek, the smell of lilacs in bloom, the color of maple leaves as they float to the ground, the majestic scenery of a mountain sunset, the feeling of stomping through fresh snow…you get the idea.  Visiting the sparking waters of the bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico was an amazing natural wonder that we witnessed in February.  I’m glad God is so creative and that we can enjoy His handiwork all around us.  His creation never ceases to amaze me, even after 40 years of enjoying it. 

37. Being a Chocoholic…
Todd bought me a t-shirt recently that says, “I never met a piece of chocolate I didn’t like!”  Ha!  That would be true!  Chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate brownies, chocolate fudge, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, mint chocolate, chocolate mochas, chocolate shakes, chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered peanuts, chocolate covered pretzels...the list goes on and on!  I’m thankful for 40 years of indulging in chocolate delights!
38. Being a Skater, Bicyclist, and ATV Driver…
When I glide across the ice on my skates I feel like I’m flying.  When I coast along a bike path feeling the wind across my face, I feel free.  When I drive an ATV along a trail I feel full of adrenaline and power.  For a quieter, more sedentary gal like myself, I’m glad I’ve been able to glide/coast/drive out of my comfort zone to experience these things during my first 40 years of life.
39. Being a Bible Reader…
God’s word is chock-full of great advice, words of wisdom, bits of instruction, mountains of inspiration, and volumes of amazing stories.  I am who I am because of reading and believing God’s word.  These are some of my favorite verses:

Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." 

Romans 8:38-39, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Philippians 4:4-8, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."  
40. Being a Heaven-Bound Daughter of The King…
Turning 40 is an honor, a joy, a privilege, and a milestone.  I love my life and I hope to live at least another 40 more years.  But, even if I don’t, I have lived a full life and I’m so thankful.  I know where I’m headed.  Jesus is my Savior and He is preparing a place for me in Heaven.  I don’t know when it will be that I join Him in Heaven, but I realize that this life is temporary.  All that matters is love….sharing God’s love with others…loving the people God has blessed me with…and enjoying the love of a Heavenly Father who says, “I take great delight in you.  I rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).  God is faithful and I know that whatever my future holds, He is in control.