I love my German daughter, Viktoria! She lived with us during the 2010-2011 school year as a participant in International Experience, an exchange student program.
Jonathan and I had wanted to host a foreign exchange student, but also wanted to wait until the girls were older. When it was time, we filled out an application, and after we were accepted, we needed to go through profiles and choose our top 3. Both Jonathan and I kept looking at Viktoria’s profile, and put her on our list. Little did we know how good of a choice that would be!
When you host an exchange student, there are certain hoops you must jump through. Home inspection, back ground checks…many of the same types of things we have gone through to become foster parents. As a mom, it is comforting to know that the families have been checked out to make sure the students are in a safe environment. We sent photos to Viktoria and her family of our house, her room, and us…hoping that she would be okay living on the farm.
Finally, the day of her arrival came. We went to the airport to meet her flight, nervously waiting. Would she like us? Would we get along well? We had heard plenty of horror stories, and were a bit worried about how this year would go. When Viktoria got to baggage claim, we were so happy to finally meet her. We got the awkward greetings out of the way, and started heading for the van. Getting to know Viktoria was easy. Her English was perfect! I was so afraid that we wouldn’t be able to understand each other. It turns out that our Minnesotan confused her more at first than her accent confused us. Apparently, the term “hot dish” doesn’t translate well.
I love Viktoria’s compassion for others, her gift of song, and her positive personality. She loves to tease just as much as the rest of us, yet she also knows when to be a friend who just listens. She touched many lives while she was living with us, from fellow students to members of our church. She has a beautiful singing voice, and was able to be the soloist for Anna’s wedding this summer. Unfortunately, she couldn’t be here in person, but thanks to technology, she was still able to sing for Anna and Doug.
Viktoria has come back to see us once after her exchange experience ended. Now it is our turn to go see her! We’re pretty excited to be able to visit her and her family soon! After hosting her parents for just over a week at the end of her stay with us, I am really looking forward to seeing them as well! I am so thankful that Jonathan and I decided to host an exchange student, and because of that, we have a daughter in Germany.
I love my daughters! Each one has their own personality, their own quirks, and their own style. I love how they love each other, and the joy they bring to our family.
Every year, we would take back to school photos on the first day of school. The photo above is from Anna’s senior year in high school. It is so fun to look back and see how the girls have changed! The things that haven’t changed are their love and support for each other. I am so thankful for that! Every now and then, I get messages from one that says, “my sisters and I have been discussing…”
Anna graduated from college a year ago. She married Doug in June, and they live in Kentucky where he is attending medical school. Anna is giving music lessons at a local music store, is the lesson coordinator for the store, and sells Mary-Kay. They have been busy making friends with other students and their significant others, as well as navigating all that you need to when moving to a completely different area. They have found a church where they feel welcomed, which is awesome. I miss Anna and Doug, but I’m thankful they are just a phone call or text or email or Skype or Facetime away. Anna also blogs at Anna E. Meyer where she shares about her faith, her writing, and life with Multiple Sclerosis. She has a pretty good attitude about life, which is one of the things most people love about her.
Christina graduated from college in May with a degree in theater, and an emphasis on costume design. She moved out to Custer, SD right after graduation to work summer stock theater at the Black Hills Playhouse. After the summer run ended, she was at home for about a month before moving to New York City. She lives with the other three theater graduates from Augustana College, which makes her move a little easier for me to handle. She can now say she has designed a show in New York City after being the costume designer for a community theater production! So far, she is loving life in NYC, and is making new friends in the theater world…some who have ties back to Augustana College. Christina is learning how to get around in New York, and I’m hoping that we’ll get the chance to visit her out there before too long. It would be fun to see what she sees every day, and to learn a little more about the city she now calls home.
Laura is living in Sioux Falls where she shares a house with some of her friends from the University of Sioux Falls. We asked her to take the fall semester off to help us with harvest, and she did. Jonathan had her driving semis, tractors, climbing grain bins…she did pretty much everything except for run the combine. She was also a huge help when it came to adjusting to our new foster son. He came the day we were planning to start harvest, and I was a little overwhelmed. Laura was great at stepping in to the jobs I normally do to help set up augers and get things ready to go, as well as entertaining the boy so I could go to the bathroom! I am so thankful that she was willing to come home to work this fall! Laura is also my favorite shopping partner (she shares my love of shoes), and I love hanging out with her when I can. I am so thankful that she is only a couple hours’ drive away instead of a plane ride away. It makes my mommy heart hurt to have my girls spread so far away!
When the girls were born, we had all kinds of dreams about who they would be, and what they would be like when they were grown. We’ve had many ups and downs, like a lot of other families, and I am thankful that we are close. My daughters truly are day brighteners and heart warmers!
This post was written by my daughter, Anna (Olson) Meyer. Today, October 13, 2014, is the 10th anniversary of her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. Read on about life from her perspective, and learn why we call this anniversary a Celebration of Life. This post is also being published on her blog, Smiles Squared.
On this day ten years ago….my mother and I traveled an hour away from my hometown to visit my neurologist to receive my official diagnosis. The results from the spinal tap had come back, and finally, Dr. Nelson would tell us for sure if I had a pinched nerve, MS, or a brain tumor. He had given all three of these as possibilities as to why my entire left side had stopped working normally, but his theory was that I most likely had MS. That is what we knew before we got to Wilmar, MN. I was CONVINCED that it was nothing but a pinched nerve, and for some unknown reason my name had been on the prayer list at church for the last few weeks.
On that day, ten years ago, I was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I was started on some medical steroids, and I was shown how to use the Autoject for my three-times-weekly medicine shots, just under the skin. (It would be another year before I gave myself those shots….and, of course, I was bribed—because what other way is there for a kid to be willing to do something unless they get something in return?)
Since my diagnosis, we have called the anniversary of that day my “celebration of life.” It is the day when I can look back on a year and see all the things I have been able to do, even though I have MS. On this ten-year anniversary of this life-altering diagnosis, I reflect on the things I have accomplished in my life!
1. I’ve been on all sorts of cool vacations and stuff.
Who cares if I had to rent a wheelchair to go Disneyworld? I went to Disneyworld! I’ve also rented wheelchairs at zoos, and even the Minnesota State Fair. Those places take a lot of walking, and I don’t quite have the energy to walk all that way. But I still got to experience it and enjoy my visits! Those places, by the way, have been the only ones I rented a wheelchair for. I can still walk! ….just not super far. I’ve been to the Wisconsin Dells and the Black Hills of South Dakota, just doing the tourist thing because I could. In high school, I went to a youth gathering with a church denomination, and had an AWESOME time with my cousin Jenni and my aunt Sheryl! In college, I went on TWO summer mission projects. Just because I have MS, doesn’t mean I can’t have fun! So I have to plan a little extra, and the south is typically a bad idea in the summer. I STILL LIVE LIFE.
2. In middle school, there were no cheerleaders, and I wanted to be one, so I petitioned and found a coach for middle school basketball cheerleaders!
The January after my diagnosis. I am second from the right, front row. You know, the one with the big smile?
We were moderately good. Our most difficult move was when one cheerleader stood on the thighs of two other cheerleaders, but we stayed safe. I wasn’t really into watching sports, but I did notice that when our middle school teams had cheerleaders, the whole “crowd” was pretty riled up. You know, for a middle school game. Smiley face. Of course, this cheerleading team kind of left the middle school when I did. I always wanted to be a cheerleader. Our high school had football cheerleading, but by that time, I just wanted to play in the pep band. (We see why I became a music major?)
I was also on the golf team for a few years before the walking became too much for me and I acknowledged that I wasn’t that great. But it was fun!
3. I got my black belt!
Actually, I started Tae Kwon Do in 4th grade. In 7th grade, I got my junior black belt. I was diagnosed with MS in 8th grade. In 9th grade, I got my 2nd degree junior black belt. After I turned 16, sophomore year, I got my first degree adult black belt. And senior year, I got my second degree adult black belt! I was involved in Tae Kwon Do for 8 years; 5 of those years after having MS. I remember difficulty in my first tournament after being diagnosed, but then I just focused on what I COULD do instead of what I COULDN’T. I taught and I was a referee as my level advanced. I became inactive in TKD after I graduated high school, but I will always be a second degree black belt!
4. I finished high school AND college.
One of my college professors once told me that he had never seen such determination in a student. So I wasn’t the best. Who cares? I did as best I could. I was DETERMINED to finish well and I learned a ton while in those college years. I wrote a post about what MS has taught me over the last decade or so here.
5. I played a senior recital of percussion music.
At that time in my life, I had skill, because I was playing on these instruments all the time. I played a piece on the marimba, the timpani, some toms (drums), the vibraphone, and even flower pots! (Videos of all these can be seen on YouTube.) I loved that season in my life, when I could go from instrument to instrument in the percussion section in an empty band room and just PLAY.
6. I’ve had a “grown-up job” since I graduated.
Even before I graduated, I’ve been giving private lessons. According to some of my other music-major friends, I wasn’t charging enough, but still. As soon as I graduated, I got on the substitute teacher list for a few different school districts. And when I got to Kentucky, of course, I began working at a music store—giving lessons! And now I’ve started up this Mary Kay business! Before I was married, I paid my own rent, bought my own food, and loved when Mom and Dad came to Sioux Falls to take me grocery shopping. And now, I don’t get many visits from Mom and Dad (because I currently live, like, 20 hours away), but I still get care packages of coffee brands that aren’t sold in the south. (Thanks, mom!)
7. I’ve written, like, four novels.
Only one I’ve written is decent enough for me to want to publish it, but I do want to publish it! I also write shortstories and blog posts all the time. And other little things when I feel like it. I’ve kept a journal since I was diagnosed! And things have just kept moving from there. I don’t believe they will ever stop, either.
8. I wrote music for a class in college and directed an ensemble playing it in church one time.
So I maybe didn’t take into consideration that band instruments play better in flats than sharps. And that high school students can’t pick up music as fast as college students. But I was so proud of that piece! I even published my college friends and I playing the piece here on YouTube.
9. I GOT MARRIED!
My handsome groom and I at our wedding this last July.
Just this last summer, if you are keeping up with me at all on this blog. (I’ve kinda talked about it a lot….) Never did I ever think I would meet a man who saw ME past the MS that has been so apparent in my life. I have a limp, which is the most obvious symptom to the world and the first turn-off to anybody who sees that instead of me first (which is pretty much everybody). But Dr. Wile E. Coyote, while he notices my limp, only notices if it’s a bad day or a good day and helps me stretch sometimes. Or if he’s walking with me, and I pull him around. (He’s not as sturdy as my sisters when they’ve walked with me, hehe.) I love Dr. Coyote, my best friend, and he is what I need. But God knew that. And I am privileged to be starting this med school journey with him and trusting the Lord until graduation, and beyond! (Like, forever. Every. Minute.)
10. I have become stronger than I thought possible.
Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have had to push past the limits of where I would want to quit because something is hard. Being diagnosed so young (at 13), I had to face many decisions and situations that most teens shouldn’t have to face. I thank the good Lord for my always-supportive family who helped me so much!
On this day in ten years, who knows what things I’ll accomplish that I’ll be able to remember? The thing about having MS is that though we have to plan a little more, sometimes sleep a little more, and maybe be careful of what activities we chose to partake in, we still live normal lives. I haven’t felt normal for years, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would love to wake up one day and the Lord tell me, “You’re cured!” But I know that when people see me walking with a limp, unphased, it brings God more glory.
Anna E Meyer
This little cutie has grown up into a beautiful woman. Today, she graduates from college! It seems like yesterday when we were looking forward to summer break after her year of kindergarten. We’re proud of you, sweetheart, and wish you many blessings as you pursue your passions.
Congratulations, Christina! We love you very much!
Christina is our middle daughter. She has always had a great imagination, and a love for books. Right now, she is majoring in theater, with the hopes of becoming a costume designer. As I write this, she just finished playing 3 characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I was able to see the production once, and Jonathan was fortunate enough to see it a second time. She was great…the characters she played are ones I think she was born to play. I seemed to have seen her facial expressions and attitudes directed at her sisters when she was growing up. 🙂 I’m looking forward to catching the show when they take it on the road in January, and again in March when they perform with the South Dakota Symphony.
I love when we get together with the girls. Christina is so good at making me laugh. I am amazed at her ability to remember lines from movies, and use them at just the right time to catch me off guard. There have been many times when I have laughed til I cried, or had to spit out my beverage. Trust me, Root Beer out the nose hurts!
When I was looking through photos of Christina to use in this post, I noticed that there were very few photos where she is not smiling, or being funny. This photo made me laugh. It is so typical of the Sunday picnics we used to take in the summer.
I am so thankful for Christina and the sunshine and laughter she brings to the family. Life isn’t always easy, nor is it always fair. That is something not lost on a middle child. I love that she is becoming her own hero.
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Laura is the youngest of our daughters. She is in her second year of college, living in the same town as her sisters, which is awesome!
Laura was pretty much born with a smile on her face. She was a little stinker, but then would look at us with her huge blue eyes as if to say, “who, me?” Before she could walk, she would tackle her sisters to get their attention. While we had to be firm with her, there were many times when we were secretly laughing at her antics. When she was about 18 months old, I was working in the kitchen while the girls were playing in their rooms. One of her sisters came to me and said that Laura was being naughty. Suddenly, I caught a whiff of Desitin, a diaper rash cream. When I walked into Laura’s room, there she was, stripped down to her diaper, rubbing this cream all over her body, and in between her toes. For those of you that have never used a diaper rash cream, this stuff is pretty difficult to just wash off. It is made to repel liquids. It took a few baths to clean her up. We had to scrub the tub in between baths, otherwise it would be super slippery. That was one time where we had to be firm, yet were laughing when she was out of earshot.
I really wouldn’t trade any of these moments for anything. I like to tease the girls that they are the cause of my gray hair, but really, they were pretty sweet girls growing up.
Laura has such a compassionate heart, and really hates when people judge others based on appearance. She is very protective of her oldest sister, and her dad, and gets really annoyed when people judge them because of the limps they have due to their MS.
Now that Laura is in college, we like to get together to shop. Well, we’ve always liked to shop together. She is so fun to hang out with. I look forward to trips to the Twin Cities with her. She has a good eye for style, and is a great bargain hunter. Days when we can laugh, and forget about the stresses of life are the best days.
There are times when I wish Laura was still little enough to crawl up onto my lap, but I am so thankful for the woman she is becoming. I love you, baby girl!
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Jonathan, Anna, and I headed out west for a short vacation last week. Our real reason for heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota was to see Christina, who is spending her summer at the Black Hills Playhouse as a tech intern. We hadn’t been able to hug her since May, and we were missing her sweet face.
We stopped at a lot of the typical touristy places, and had fun. Seeing those sights with your 20-something offspring is much different than with your 2-something offspring. We stayed in Wall, SD the first night, so we were just over an hour away from our hotel in Keystone, SD. We arrived early enough that we went straight to Mount Rushmore.
The monument was beautiful. We had been here when the girls were in elementary school, so we knew a little about the area, and had anticipated the view. We were not disappointed!
We went through the museum under the observation area, and decided to sit in on the 14 minute film about the making of the memorial. This is where the “yeah, yeah, we’ve seen this before” turned into “wow, did you know that?” and “I wish I could get a copy of all the quotes!”
Maybe it is the times we are living in. Maybe it’s the climate of me, me, me. Maybe it is the feeling of disconnect between neighbors. Whatever the reason, I was struck by the patriotism of Gutzlon Borglum, and the reasons he gave for selecting those particular four presidents.
He selected Washington because he was the father of our country. He was not worried about his political ambitions. He was worried about building a foundation for a young country that would stand the test of time.
Jefferson was selected to represent the growth of our country. President Jefferson orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, and sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition.
Lincoln represents the preservation of our country, after he was able to reunite the United States after the Civil War. Borglum greatly admired Lincoln, and made many pieces of artwork about him.
President Theodore Roosevelt helped to make the Panama Canal a reality. He also orchestrated peace between countries, establishing the United States as a world power. 200 million acres of National Parks were set aside during his presidency. His presence on Mount Rushmore represents development of our nation.
The story behind the sculpting, the selection, and the accomplishment of the monument is very educational. As we were leaving Mount Rushmore, Jonathan overheard someone talking about the evening lighting ceremony. We thought that sounded neat, so we decided we would come back the next night (parking is $11 per car, good for the rest of the year, so we could go as many times as our hearts desired).
We had no idea what to expect. We did know that we should get there early, and I’m glad we did. The amphitheater was full by the time the ceremony started.
The ceremony began with a 10 minute talk by a park ranger. She talked about the memorial, sharing quotes from each of the presidents that were represented on the memorial. After her talk, we watched a short film about the presidents and the carving of the mountain. It was very patriotic. The film ended with the singing of America the Beautiful. It was very dark at this point, but as we looked at the flag, during the song, we noticed the lights were starting to shine on the faces. By the time the song had ended, the faces were fully lit. That was my first set of goosebumps. Then, all the veterans were invited forward to assist with the lowering of the flag ceremony. This may have been the first time my eyes leaked. The 75 or so men and women on the stage were given a standing ovation. Most people sang the National Anthem…I was a little too choked up to get the words out.
After the flag was lowered and properly folded, each of the veterans introduced themselves and their branch of service. My eyes may have leaked a little at the presenting of the flag to the park ranger.
When the ceremony was done for the night, I couldn’t help but think about what this monument means, and how important it is to remember the ideals and sacrifices these men had made in order for me to be able to live in a country where I am free to worship how I want, free to make the choices I do, and free to help others has I see fit.
These men weren’t looking out just for themselves or their political aspirations. They were more concerned about their fellow Americans, and the country they led. They were led by the people, for the people. President Washington refused to be crowned king, because then America wouldn’t have the freedoms they longed for.
I left the ceremony thinking that every single American should be given the opportunity to attend the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. Every Senator, Representative, and Presidential candidate should be reminded about the principles that our country was founded on in the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Days later, as I sit at the computer in the comfort of my home, trying to put into words the emotions we felt, my eyes may have leaked a little.
Tomorrow will be our youngest daughter’s 19th birthday. This summer, she is staying in her college town to work at her first “town job”. This will be her first birthday away from home. It may be cliche, but they grow up so fast!
I think when Jonathan got his go-cart running, it took a few years off my life! Laura was either all on the gas, or all on the brake whipping around corners. She was little enough that she had to slouch down to reach the pedals. She’s had a couple other go-carts since this one, but the memory of the first day behind the wheel of this first cart really sticks out. I came to dread the phrase, “Hey, mom! Watch this!”
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year from the Olson family!
The Christmas season is typically filled with the hustle and bustle of baking, shopping, and decorating. This year, we added a trip to the Mayo Clinic for Anna’s yearly checkup, and grain hauling into the mix. Some decorating didn’t happen, but Christmas isn’t dependent on how festive the house looks. After all, Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by farm animals.
I am so thankful for Anna’s positive check up. Her MRI showed no new Multiple Sclerosis activity, and her physical tests showed no major declines in strength or other issues. That was our first Christmas gift this year. Anna and I left for Rochester a day early, due to a blizzard warning in that area. We wanted to get ahead of the storm, and avoid driving in the wide open spaces in wind driven snow. This was the third year in a row that we have spent extra time in Rochester due to winter storms. Our hotel was great when Anna’s first appointment went long, and we were late for checkout on Friday morning. They didn’t charge us a late checkout fee, even though they could have. That was our second Christmas gift this year.
On Christmas Eve Day, we started out with fresh caramel rolls for breakfast. We all went in to our church’s candle light Christmas Eve service that evening, where we served as the greeters. I love seeing all of the families who have come home for Christmas. Having our girls home for Christmas was our third gift this year.
Our family opens gifts on Christmas Eve, following the candlelight service. I love the laughter, the delight, the joy at gifts given and gifts received. Two of the girls did the majority of the gift buying this year. It was a fun night.
Christmas day dawned bright and cold. It was a day of playing games with Jonathan’s cousins from town, and eating delicious appetizers and cookies.
In the midst of all the merriment, Jonathan has been out working in the single digit temperatures to load out semi loads of grain, as well as the usual pig chores. The cold temperatures always bring equipment issues, but typically things get fixed in short order. We are thankful for our dairy friends who are out in the barns every day – holiday or not. I haven’t heard any complaints about working holidays, or working in the extreme cold. This is the life we have chosen, and we are thankful for it.
So, from our farm to you, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!