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

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.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013 from the Sapps

Merry Christmas from Todd and Jennifer!  Here are some photos from our year.....

James and Jaimee Sapp in Two Harbors in July

Daniel Sapp in his Ranchero

Daniel and friends admiring the Ranchero

Todd turned 50 this year!!!

Here we are celebrating Todd's birthday at Texas Roadhouse in October.

Todd and Jennifer enjoyed a June vacation to Nova Scotia and PEI, Canada

Here is our camper on the most northern tip of Nova Scotia

Scenic French River on Prince Edward Island

Jennifer and her Mom made a violin and piano CD together in April

And here it is..... our CD!

The Iverson clan celebrating Thanksgiving together this year

Jennifer's second grade classroom all decorated for Christmas
Dear family and friends, 
     Thanks for checking out our Christmas blog of memories from 2013.  James is working at Hoglund Bus while Jaimee continues her schooling to become a medical administrative assistant.  Daniel is in his second year at St. Cloud Technical College where he is studying Industrial Electronics.  He works at Buffalo Wild Wings.  He is living at home and enjoys restoring his Ranchero.  
     Todd and I continue to enjoy traveling together during the summer months.  We sing on worship team at our church.  And, we are focusing a lot of our attention on good nutrition and health.  Teaching and working at Remmele are keeping us busy too!    
     We hope you are all doing great!  Enjoy your 2014!  May you be blessed with peace, joy, and lots of love!
                                             Love, Jennifer (and Todd) Sapp

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Fiddler On The Roof!

A Fiddler On The Roof!
Alexandria Jefferson High School Production

Glenwood Community Theater Production
     Becker High School recently performed their annual fall Musical.  This year it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  It was an excellent, energy-packed performance full of color and spirit.  I'm so glad I went!  I'm also glad I attended because it brought back wonderful memories of the productions I have been involved in.  My all time favorite Musical experience was being the fiddler in Fiddler On The Roof.  In fact, I was lucky enough to get to perform it in two separate productions!  In the spring of my 9th grade year I was the fiddler for my high school and then that very summer I was the fiddler for Glenwood Community Theater when they performed it.  You would be surprised at how varied the roles actually were.  Let me tell you about it.    
     In our high school production, my character was very somber.  I wore all black and was never to smile.  In the Glenwood production, my character was to be jolly and smiley and full of energy and bounce.  My costume was pink and purple!  In both productions, I was in the pit orchestra most of the time and on stage part of the time.  Part of what was special about me be the fiddler was that I could actually play my violin parts on stage instead of just acting like I was playing.  I had to memorize my parts.  It was fun! 
     In both productions, I got to be in the opening scene playing fiddle all by myself while sitting on a roof (actually I was straddling a ladder)!  In the Glenwood production the director had me pretend to play the opening lines too fast and then shake out my violin and do it again at the right tempo.  The opening scene includes a long song about the traditions of the Russian Jewish people in the story.  The song is called TraditionAt the end of the scene the spotlight zooms in on me as the main character raises his arm to me and declares, "Without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as... as a fiddler on the roof!"  I got to play the final few notes (just me and the spotlight) and then hold my bow in the air very dramatically in a frozen position until the light went out.  It was quite exhilerating!  I loved doing that scene.  But, I didn't love climbing down the ladder with my violin in the dark afterwards.  Thankfully, I never got hurt!
     In both productions I was also in the final scene.  As the main character and his family are leaving their home, I appeared and led the way as they began their long walk.  I played a very haunting melody about their hometown (called Anatefka).  The family followed me as I played and led them off the stage.  In the high school production, I led the family off on stage right and the production was over.  In the Glenwood production I played the song for a long time as I led the family and most of the cast around in a circle on the large stage and then down the aisle beside the audience.  I actually led them right out the back exit door.
     In both productions, I got to be in the scene where all the men sing L'Chayim (To Life) in a pub.  I mingled with the men and played the melody to If I Were a Rich Man while they lifted their glasses to me and drank.  Again, I was somber in one and jolly in the other.
     The Glenwood production added an extra scene.  After the lively L'Chayim song was done and the scene was over, I went back on stage in front of the curtain with the main character and played the theme of If I Were a Rich Man again.  We danced around together as I played.  Then he held the curtain open for me as I danced off.  It was a very challenging scene for me because I had to dance around while actually playing.  I had never done anything like that before.  I had to have a big toothy grin and raised eyebrows through the whole scene too!  Part of what made that scene so exciting was because I was actually performing with Bob Bergman who was a professional actor!  He had been Badlands Bob in the Medora Musical in Medora, North Dakota for many, many years and had only recently retired to Glenwood.  I was a big fan!  It was such a thrill to perform with him!  
     Besides the excitement of being on stage, I absolutely loved my role as violinist in the pit orchestra.  The music of Fiddler On The Roof is wonderful!  There are haunting melodies, lively dance tunes, and fabulous word pictures being created with our music.  One of my favorite parts was when the main character sang about how if he were rich he would have, "One long staircase just going up and one even longer going down!"  The violin slowly ascends up the scale and then quickly descends back down to the bottom.  Another favorite part is playing the melody to Chavala's song.  It just soars so beautifully as a short ballet is being performed.  I love how bouncy Miracle of Miracles is and The Dream scene is just plain fun to play!  And, who hasn't heard of Sunrise, Sunset or Matchmaker, Matchmaker?  Great songs!  I've always loved Far From the Home I Love too.  I wished I could be the character who sings that song.  It's so beautiful!  It's a good thing I enjoyed the songs of Fiddler On The Roof so much, because sitting through rehearsals and performances for two productions of the same show requires a LOT of hours!
     I will never forget the feeling of getting my own bow during the ending applause.  Somtimes the applause would even swell.  I felt like I was floating.  It was one of those moments that I person never ever forgets.
     Now if you haven't seen a production of Fiddler On The Roof, I highly encourage you to seek one out!  Watch the movie starring Topol (and the violinist is Isaac Stern.... amazing), or go to Chanhassen Dinner Theater or find somewhere that is performing it.  You'll be glad you did!            

Friday, November 15, 2013

The wonderful world of blogging

I'm a writer!
     Everyone has ambitions and passions in their lives.  One of mine has always been to write.  I always have something floating around in my head that I'd enjoy writing about.  When I most need to vent or work things out, I write.  When I am bursting with joy and gratitude, I write.  Over the last few years, one of the mediums I have used for writing has been this very blog.  In 2011, I was inspired by my friend Carrie who wrote a blog about her life and family.  She told me that the main purpose of her blog was to chronicle the life of her son, C.J.  He has so many relatives and friends who want to "follow" what's up in his life.  Check it out at: .  She has done some fabulous things with her blog.  Carrie was my inspiration.  Well, her and "The Pioneer Woman" who has made a living out of blogging and writing cookbooks (and helping her husband run their ranch).  Check out her blog at  You'll be impressed.
     I recently had a fun coffee date with a friend who is interested in doing some blogging.  I was able to show her the process of how I got started using Blogger.  That small exchange was a big deal to me because I am "technology challenged!"  Just ask anyone at school and they could tell you that Jennifer Sapp is a beginner in the world of technology.  I basically need help with everything!

     But, blogging is something I have a passion for.  My young friend Eleanor began blogging in 2011 after I helped encourage her to begin.  She is an excellent writer.  She uses so much "voice" and expression in her writing.  Check our her blog at to see the kinds of things that this exceptional tween has written about.  I had the honor of giving Eleanor a list of writing prompts to help get her started.  She took it from there and really enjoyed it for a time.
     This fall I attended a day of technology-focused workshops and was inspired to begin doing a blog with my class.  You can check it out at, you won't get to see much.  It is password protected (but very easy for the kids).  Starting a blog with my students is one of the best things I've done as a teacher in a long time.  It's so great to see the kids so excited about writing!  The students have to write something in their writing journals during writing time in the classroom and then they type it onto the blog during computer lab time.  On certain days my students get to read the blogs their classmates have written and then write positive comments and questions underneath.  Each child has a photo by his/her name (just like Facebook) and each has his/her own page where he/she can see all the posts he/she has published.  It's quite exciting for an 8 year old.  And, it's exciting for this 36 year old too!
     Most of the student posts have been about Halloween, pets, or playing with friends so far.  One girl wrote about a recent car accident and how she felt when she heard about her friend's dad getting hurt.  Another girl is writing her own version of "The Gingerbread Girl."  Two boys are writing about football practice and another is explaining about a Disney Infinity video game.  I'm seeing comments like, "I like how your story ended!" and "Sounds like a fun practice."  I'm seeing questions like, "Did you get a lot of candy?" and "What do you like to do with your dog?"  I LOVE IT!  The kids are reading and comprehending and writing using sentences and questions.  They are being positive and having fun!  And, writing has meaning for the kids!  I'm tempted to let them write all day and skip all other subjects, but of course I know better!  Perhaps one day one of my kiddos will be a writer professionally.  But, I think my bigger hope is that my kids will grow to love writing and choose to continue writing on their own long after they have forgotten about 2nd grade!       

Modeling "SAPP" earrings made by a former student.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The many cultures of Mountain Lake, Minnesota

Some friends from Mountain Lake, celebrating a birthday
     From August of 2000 to June of 2003 I had the pleasure of living in the small town (population around 2,000) of Mountain Lake, Minnesota.  During those three years I discovered this southern Minnesota town had a plethora of different cultures jam-packed into it's 1.55 square miles.  This town has no stoplight, but two schools (public and Christian).  Walking down residential streets, one can smell Laotian spring rolls wafting from one home and pungent Borscht soup floating from the next.  One can visit a Mennonite church one Sunday morning and later that afternoon witness a Laotian monk clad in bright orange robes sitting on his step waiting for his evening meal to be brought to him!  One can hear traditional organ music at one church and then cross the street to hear mandolins and harmonicas playing Bluegrass gospel tunes.  Walking through the local cemetery beside the infamous lake, you can see familiar names like Yoder, Fast, Harder, Adrian, Klassen, Stoesz, Dick, and Bargen.  These are the resting places of many of the relatives of my former students.  But, walking past the bright pink, purple, and blue houses, you'd know that Hispanics, Hmong, and Laotian people also abound.
Everyone gathering around me for prayer after my baptism

     My three year experience in Mountain Lake made me appreciate "culture" in a new way.  I grew up in Alexandria, Minnesota (population about 11,000).  We were mostly Norwegians and Germans who talked about lefse, lakes, and Lutheran churches!  I LOVED growing up in Alexandria.  And, I like living in Becker now too.  But, Mountain Lake had so many different cultures for such a small place.  The "small-towness" of it intrigued me.  At times I wanted to burst into the Cheers themesong.....”Where everybody knows your name.....”
     The Norwegians have lefse (yum) and lutefisk (yuck!).  The Russian Mennonites have Zwiebeck, Peppernuts, Vereniki, and Borscht!  I had all those things..... more than once!  The Christian school has a huge Borscht supper fundraiser every year.  The whole building smells of cabbage and beets for days!  If you come early to the bake sale, you have your pick of freshly made Zwiebeck (rolls shaped like a snowman with no head), and Peppernuts (also known as Pfeffernusse, which are delicious, soft Christmas cookies the size of a dime).  To have Vereniki, I had to go to a restaurant that was having a special Vereniki dinner, but I know people who make it in their own homes, too.  Basically, Vereniki is like breaded chicken patties, with cottage cheese inside instead of chicken.  And, they have a rich, creamy sauce you put on top.  They are quite tasty!

     The Mennonites I knew were just like all other Protestants I knew.  The ladies didn't wear head coverings or long skirts.  The men didn't grow long beards or farm with oxen.  They drove cars and used electricity!  They sang praise songs just like my Baptist church does in Becker.  They had Vacation Bible School and youth group and Sunday School just like the Alliance Church nearby.  They were farmers and teachers and business owners.  They baptized believers, (but did it by sprinkling instead of immersion).  The only big difference I noticed between the Mennonites and any other Protestant church was their strong belief in Pacifism.  Even after 911 in 2001, I didn't know ANYONE who thought we should go to war.  I knew people who had been conscientious objectors to military service in Vietnam.  I also knew people who didn't want our students singing patriotic songs at school.  Coming from my experience of annual trips to the patriotic town of Medora, North Dakota each summer (where we sang God Bless America at the top of our lungs at the evening musical), this was quite a change for me.
One of the best classes I've ever had!  What great kids!

     I taught 2nd grade at Mountain Lake Christian School.  I had 10, 11, and 12 students during my three years there.  I absolutely LOVED teaching in a Christian environment.  I adored "my kids" and felt like I was truly in a partnership with their parents to educate them.  Daily prays, praise songs to our God, discussions about Bible stories, and memorizing scripture together were just a few of the highlights I enjoyed regularly.  My students had such knowledge of the Bible and such faith in our Great Big God!  I felt so close to the Lord.  Bible verses ran through my head all the time.  I had friends to pray with right next door.  It was a wonderful time in my life.  I didn’t belong to a specific church, so the school family became my church.  I was baptized in May of 2003 in Mountain Lake.  The Christian school had a refreshing culture - one of infusing God into every area of our lives and teaching.  
     As mentioned above, I lived in three different houses while in Mountain Lake.  The first one was a tiny Mennonite house that belonged to one of the first settlers to the area.  Man, was it tiny!  The second was in the basement of a home of a kind old lady who needed someone to rent from her and "keep an eye on her."  The third was a medium-sized house one block from school.  Across the street from that house there lived a Laotian Buddhist Monk.  He had a bald head and bright orange robes.  The people of his church brought him meals on a regular basis.  He smoked a pipe.  He mostly stayed in his house, but sometimes he came out and sat on his steps.  I was afraid of him because I felt I couldn’t trust him.  I wasn't afraid of the Laotian children I saw around town, but I was afraid of him.  I prayed that God would protect me from the spiritual warfare that I knew was surrounding our neighborhood. 
The third house I lived in
     I had very little contact with the Laotians, or Hispanics, or Hmong.  But, my friend Rachel gave English lessons to one Laotian woman in the woman’s home.  And, my friend Miranda brought Laotian children to Sunday School on a regular basis.  No Laotian, or Hispanic, or Hmong child attended the Christian school while I was there.  I wish I had gotten to know some of them.  I missed an opportunity. 

     Another opportunity I wish I would have pursued is getting to know some of the Hutterite people in the area.  Hutterites are very similar to Amish.  They speak German as their first language and dress in traditional attire.  They have their own schools and their own colonies.  The Mountain Lake Gospel Singers performed for a group of Hutterites one Christmas and found out the hard way that Hutterites do not “do” Christmas trees.  As the singers sang out lustily, “Come On Ring Those Bells, Light The Christmas Tree.....” offended Hutterite men stood up and stomped out of the room coughing with annoyance.  Oops!  Another culture.  Only a few short miles from Mountain Lake.
    Then there is the culture of farming.  Almost everyone I knew was involved in farming in some way.  My students (particularly the boys) would “play” at farming when they had free time.  They’d use paper to make corn fields and hay fields and then drive their little tractors around.  When discussing the golden calf from the Old Testament stories, my students had plenty to tell me about the shots and testing that calves must endure when they enter this world!  It seemed that every student I ever had was an experienced rock picker!  Dads were up late combining.  Moms decorated with cow spot patterns and bright red roosters.  Sermon illustrations were about seed falling on the “good soil” and all heads would nod.  I visited a students' smelly pig farm and helped another student rescue baby turkeys when they tipped over at her family’s turkey farm.  I brushed horses and even sat on a hay bale!  It was definitely a culture of farming.  It was wholesome.   
         I began playing violin the summer after fourth grade.  Most of what I played was classical pieces, orchestra music, and church hymns.  So, when I joined TWO Bluegrass gospel groups in Mountain Lake, I was in for a cultural experience again.  The first group was called Joy Strings and it consisted of guitar, autoharp, hammered dulcimer, and fiddle.  Usually the guitarist sang and sometimes the rest of us joined him.  The songs were almost all about Heaven.  Most were happy.  The music was fun.  The second group was called The Mountain Lake Gospel Singers.  It consisted of two guitars, two harmonicas, an autoharp, a mandolin, a bass, a fiddle, and singers.  That group mostly sang songs like what you’d hear at a Gaither Homecoming Show.  The songs were fun and energetic too.  My favorite part about being in both groups was watching the way all the members seemed to love making music together.  We were having a good time.  Also, I enjoyed reaching the point where I could play along to the songs "by ear" since no music was written out for me.  I knew what chords were being played, but it was up to me to create fiddle parts.  It was a thrilling feeling to be able to play along and feel like I was adding to the two groups. 
     So, as I close this blog, I challenge you to look around you and appreciate the variety of cultures you discover.  Todd is from a small town near Wadena.  I have enjoyed getting to know the area (Staples, Bertha, and Browerville) and scoping out the different cultures there.  Maybe someday I'll write a blog about Todd's old stomping grounds.  We'll see!