Category Archives: travel

Back in America 385 Days Later



385 days after saying good-bye to our German Exchange Student… we are welcoming her back to America! What a fast year plus 20 days it was! If you don’t already know the story, Lara came to us in August 2011 for the 2011-2012 school year at age 15 and in 10th grade. She left us June 2, 2012 at age 16.  She was home for a just couple days when she told her family she wanted to come back to America for her next summer break. Oh, how time flies! It went so fast that I figured the blog was still active so I’d start writing again. I initially started the blog to document my experience of being a Host Mother who was responsible for another woman’s daughter halfway around the world… and for a keepsake for Lara’s, and our, experience! Almost two years since the blog started and we have had more than 11,000 hits! A link for the blog is also on the website for the Exchange Company Lara used for her trip here so students can read about her experience. Lara also volunteers there by helping other students prepare for a similar journey to America. You can read the very first blog here:

1001176_10201421529129353_687189846_nSo…385 days later… we are back at the airport with most of the same friends who were there when she left,  We waited impatiently for 90 minutes until she came out of the International arrival doors. She was welcomed with a banner and everyone yelling, “LARA!!” We were definitely the largest group there to welcome someone at the airport!

385 days later… Lara’s room at the house remains intact. When we returned home from the airport, Lara quickly went to “her room.” It’s a little different than it was when she left but I made sure some items were left in place, like her Bible that she decoupage with the YoungLife kids still resting on a shelf, her old school notebooks on the desk and some of her pottery she made in Clay Class. In the closet were some clothes she decided to leave here, like her Homecoming dress!

20130622_194926385 days later… Lara’s friends are still giggling with her, telling old stories and ready for a night of swimming in the pool after a BBQ.  Some things never change! Brittany, Morgan, Gabby, Erin, Addy, Charlie and Jack were in and out of the pool for most of the evening, along with our son, Travis, and his girlfriend, Rubyann. Then they had to make the traditional trip to Ocean Blue, a yogurt shop around the corner, was a must-do, followed by a movie. It was certainly a late night and a long journey for Lara after 15 hours on planes and jet lag!

385 days later… I realize nothing has really changed since Lara left. Social Media helped us all keep in touch almost every day. I’ve been texting with Lara at least 3 to 4 times a week through WhatsApp, a phone application that’s free texting. We can send photos, videos or record our voices too.  Of course, we’ve Skyped about every other month and had fun sharing things on Facebook and Instagram. Brittany, and has kept in touch with Lara a lot through SnapChat, along with Morgan and Gabby.

SAM_0836385 days later… it’s like Lara never left. Everything is in the same place in the house… some furniture has moved around or is missing but it’s still “home” to her. As I write this, she’s back in the pool on the rafts and playing with the dogs! When she got to the house, she walked right in and checked out the pantry, some of the cabinets in the kitchen, the fridge. She’s just like anyone else in the house and knows I won’t do everything for her. She’s on her own and has to make herself at home again.

385 days later… I’m back to planning some trips with Lara. During her 10 month stay we visited Washington DC, New York City, went on a Baja Mexico Cruise and to Los Angeles and Disneyland. Somehow… we never made it to the Grand Canyon. I know… pretty sad on my part, right? So… a trip to the Grand Canyon is in order. I’m also taking her to “small town America” for the 4th of July. It’s just too hot in Phoenix to do anything so we’re headed up to cool country and Prescott, Arizona for a carnival, live music, fireworks and an Arts and Crafts Show. A trip to Las Vegas is in the works, staying at Mandalay Bay where there’s a beach and lazy river. Lara met her mother in Vegas for a couple days towards the end of her stay in America but I’d like to take her to see some other sights there with Brittany. And if we still have time…we might make it to the beaches of San Diego and Sea World.

385 days later… I can see it’s definitely going to be an action-packed and busy summer! And of course, I’ll document our reunion along the way right here!


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The Final Chapter-A Host Mother’s Thoughts


Almost 2 months since Lara, our Exchange Student, returned home to Germany, after 10 months of living with us. And it’s taken me this long to absorb it all, write the Final Chapter of this Blog and turn it into a book. Don’t get me wrong… I will still cry… and I will have to take a tissue break… but it’s important to reflect on the year and answer questions so many people have asked about this once in a lifetime journey.

In my initial blog post,, I shared the hopes and fears that I had being a Host Mother to a teenager whose family and friends were on the other side of the world. It was an overwhelming feeling at first but I took it one day at a time. Now, almost one year later, I’m amazed at how fast the time passed and how much our family learned about another culture, about life and about love for a complete stranger.

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is, “Will you host another student?” My answer is a quick, “No”. It catches some people by surprise and the first question they shoot back is, “Why? Was it a bad experience?” My answer again is, “No”. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. It was such a wonderful, heartwarming experience that I don’t think it could ever be repeated. You see… we didn’t only host an exchange student who wanted to learn about America. We added a member to our family. And that has grown into an extended family that includes her mother, father, brother, grandparents and best friends.

The goal of the Blog was to keep Lara’s family and friends informed on everything she was doing. From experiencing things for the very first time… to how school was going…. to making friends… to adapting to the American culture. From the connections I’ve made around the world, I can only assume the project was a success! Lara’s friends in Germany became my Facebook friends. I imagine, if they saw that Lara liked me, they could like and trust me too. They saw that I was her “Mother” and helping her complete a 10-month adventure.

One of the most special relationships I’ve developed from this experience is with Lara’s Mother, Ana. From the moment we met on Skype, when we learned Lara was going to live with us, and she cried knowing who was going to care for her daughter… to the day we met in person… we formed a special bond.. one that only two Mothers can share caring for the same child. At times, it’s an unspeakable bond. I would email Ana and talk to her about things Lara was doing here… just between us Mothers. I felt her pain and cried when I learned she was struggling with Lara being gone during the holidays. I imagined how I would feel if my daughter, Brittany, were to leave for 10 months. Honestly, I don’t think I can do it. But Ana stayed strong for her daughter…so her daughter could live an American life. Isn’t that what we do for our children? We stay strong? We guide them through the best and worst of times? It’s what Ana and I both did for 10 months but from halfway around the world.

The day I met Ana, it was a very emotional moment for us. (Yes, here come the tears again). You may recall, Ana traveled to America two weeks before Lara went back to Germany. She arrived at our home just 4 days before Lara left. I can clearly relive the moment Ana pulled up to our home and we went outside to greet her. We met in the middle of the grass and hugged and cried and cried and cried. And the tears were those big alligator tears that just pour down your face! Finally, the woman who trusted me to care for her most prized possession — her daughter — is at my home so we can share Lara TOGETHER! That night, we sat at the kitchen table and talked for hours about everything Lara has done, how she has changed, the friends she made, the woman she had become… all while Lara, Brittany and their friends were running around the house being silly. Her mother said, “I see a different girl than the one that left Germany. But it is a good difference. She has grown as a person.” She thanked me so many times for taking care of Lara and for the Blog. So I guess… the purpose of the Blog was a success.

I’ve connected with others around the world who just wanted to see what life was like as an Exchange Student. Maybe they are thinking of doing the same. Others wanted to see inside just one America family’s lifestyle. Others enjoyed the travel aspect of our time with Lara and how a German student was able to experience trips to Washington, DC, New York City, a Baja Mexico cruise, Los Angeles and a first-time visit to Disneyland! Others I have connected with are experiencing a similar German-American relationship and we now follow each other’s blogs.

There’s also been an unexpected surprise to writing this Blog. The German  Company that coordinated Lara’s trip has asked to share the link on their website. They think it will help other students understand the Exchange Student experience. Of course, for those of you who followed our adventures, many said living with us was like living in Disneyland, with all the people and places involved! And we all know everyone’s experience will be different. But I hope others can see the potential for Host Families to be caring, loving and open to teaching a student about America. One friend called me an “Ambassador for America”. I laugh at that but, in a way, I can also relate to it. 🙂

So, what happens next? I’m turning the Blog into a book so that we will have the experience captured in hardcover. Lara will get one too. Lara already has plans to visit us next summer. I plan to go to Germany in Summer 2014 when my daughter graduates from High School. Of course, there’s always Skype, Facebook “Likes” and private Facebook messages that go to our phones…as if Lara and I are texting each other. So, we are in touch all the time. And, of course, there’s always that unspeakable love for her as if she was one of my own children. Some things… like love for a special person… never change.

I leave you now with a greeting card we just received from Lara. Below the picture of the front of the card, I share the inside caption. She also listed all the things she misses about being here. They are the exact things I knew she would miss… the little things about being a family.


Inside the card: “Not only do I miss you, but now I’m really hungry.” 😦   Some things with teenagers just never change!

We love you Lara!  XOXOXOXO

Victoria… your silly Host Mum forever!

German girl reaches the Pacific Ocean


Our California trip with our German Exchange Student and Daughter would not be complete without a stop at the Pacific Ocean! We spent some time at Newport Beach where it was cold and windy after having breakfast with a friend of mine from 12News in Phoenix, and his wife in Orange, California.

We walked on the Pier for a short time but it was colder and windier there… so we hit the beach for awhile… or at least long enough to take pictures! You will see that Lara was wrapped in a blanket the whole time. Both girls put their feet in the water but didn’t go much further. The water was freezing! The temperature was in the 70’s…which is cold for Arizonans!

It was definitely relaxing before our drive back to Phoenix! Enjoy the pictures!

Driving Home

The German Girl Hits Hollywood


Universal StudiosHurray for Hollywood….”  That famous song brings so many images of glamour and glitter and movies and famous stars! What would a trip to California be without a stop in Hollywood and Universal Studios where movie magic is made!

Universal Studios offers a unique look and experience to the world of movies with attractions, rides, shows and a tour of the Back Lot where TV shows and movies are filmed. We started with the Terminator 3D experience. Talk about a wake-up call at 10:30am! Loud explosions and gunfire, motorcycles in the theatre and a 3D interactive performance that makes you feel as if you are in the middle of the film! Lara was not a big fan, due to the noise but she definitely saw something new! We even got their pictures on the Terminator motorcycle outside the Theatre.Terminator Motorcycle

Next stop…the House of Horrors. I can’t tell you a lot about this because it might ruin your experience but I can say it scared me half to death! All four of us walked in but soon Brittany and I turned around and Terry and Lara were not there! Were they caught by monsters or did they turn around? Brittany and I waited by the lower level exit to see if they were just lagging behind…and we certainly talked about leaving and NOT going to the second level… but we decided to move forward. But now we were at the BACK of the line of people walking through. By the time we got out, I was sweating, my throat hurt from screaming and my heart was pounding for about 10 minutes afterwards! I’m such a Chuckie at House of Horrorschicken! And even after going through it and knowing what to expect, not sure I’d do it again! And the worst part was Chuckie…that short, little red-headed doll that comes to life! Scary, I tell you….scary!

The Back Lot tour was great! It’s a 45-minute trip on a Tram that weaves in and out of scenes from movies…and a couple attractions just for the Tram Tour. We went down Wisteria Lane, where “Desperate Housewives” is shot. But before “Desperate Housewives”, it was used for the famous TV show (1957-1963) “Leave it to Beaver” and many other scenes for movies and TV. We also traveled through the town scene in the movie “Back to the Future“. We learned that particular area of the Back Lot was used for so many other movies and TV shows as well. There was a 4D “King Kong” Back Lot Tram Tourattraction that was awesome! We also drove through the set of “War of the Worlds” and “The Grinch“. Really an amazing attraction! There are many pictures below,

One of our favorite things to do was the “Simpson’s” ride! We went into a room and sat in a car that was like a roller coaster car. When the ride started, it was as if we were really on an animated roller coaster, flying through the air,  and riding on other rides in an amusement park. There was a screen in front of us and around the sides so if you looked to the right or left, it’s as if you were really there and could see all the way around you! It was so much fun! And so scary! And on the way out…we caught Homer and Marge and got pictures with them!

On the lower level of the park were a couple of attractions…but getting there was half the fun! There are 3 or 4 escalators that are really steep! and once we got to the bottom, the girls wanted to go on the “Jurassic Park” ride… but they didn’t want to get wet. So Lara bought a rain poncho and the girls shared it. The ride takes you through a jungle, like the scenes in the movie “Jurassic Park”. But at the end, a Tyrannosaurus emerges in front of the raft, and lunges down to grab the raft, and the raft escapes by plunging down an 85 feet (26 m) high near-vertical drop and into a  lagoon. The girls rode the ride twice because there was almost no line. Their faces afterwards were priceless!!!!!!

We also rode the wild “Revenge of the Mummy” ride... an indoor steel roller coaster. But apparently it’s not long enough. When it ended, Lara said, “That’s it?” We laughed. She was ready for more.

We finished out the park at the Waterworld show, a Stunt show surrounding water with boats and jet skis and explosions! A great way to end the day of movie magic!

Next stop…and next post… Newport Beach!


Sponge Bob Squarepants

Scooby Doo

How cars look like they're flying in Movies

Wisteria Lane, Desperate Housewives

Jurassic Park Ride

Escalators to Lower Lot

Our German Girl goes to Disneyland


Once upon a time….in a country far, far away… there was a German girl named Lara who wanted to see America and go to Disneyland. She heard it was the Happiest Place on Earth… and her mother collects Mickey Mouse….so it was only right that she travel to America to fulfill her wishes…and that her Host Family cooperates! So, on a chilly Saturday morning of April 14, 2012 in Anaheim, California…the German girl, her Host Sister, and her Host Parents stepped into the magical world of Disneyland!

Now…. Imagine the song “When You Wish Upon A Star...” playing softly in the background right now as you read this!!! Got it? Can you hear the music? Great! We walk through the entry gates where Mickey Mouse is drawn in the grass in colored flowers… just below the train station. Then we step onto Main Street USA where children are smiling ear-to-ear and running, Goofy is signing autographs in Town Square, a horse drawn carriage is passing by filled with passengers.. There was just so much happening at one time! Lara and Brittany were like 8-year-olds filled with excitement! Moments later… we walk around the curve of the street and into the straight away… and there… off in the distance…at the end of Main Street…. sits the infamous magical Disney Castle!!! It’s something everyone looks forward to seeing in real life after seeing the castle in movies, commercials and cartoons! But wait…. STOP THAT MUSIC I TOLD YOU TO IMAGINE HEARING EARLIER!!! The next words out of Lara’s mouth was, “Wait. That’s the castle? It looks so small.” Terry and I burst into laughter! Because you know what? She is 100% right! It DOES look small! We’ve seen it so many times that we’re used to it! But for someone experiencing it for the first time, it looks nothing like what you’d expect! Such a funny moment!

And actually, the castle at Disney World in Orlando, Florida is much bigger! And did you know that the REAL Disney Castle is in Germany? Here is an article about that!

We proceeded into Tomorrowland where we went on the new Toy Story Buzz Lightyear ride, the Star Wars Tour, Space Mountain and Autotopia…where the girls got to drive a car on their own. We laughed about that because they both have their permits now! They each wanted their own car, of course! Lara liked all the rides! But Space Mountain might be the most memorable for the girls because… just as their roller coaster car was ready to enter “Space”… an employee pulled their car aside because they detected something was wrong with it. The girls were put on another car and away they went! The biggest disappointment in this area was not being able to ride the Mattehorn Roller Coaster. It’s being worked on and is closed right now!

I should mention this is where Lara and Brittany got their Minnie Mouse ears! I mean, really…. how can you go to Disneyland and not get your ears! Brittany got a red and black sequined headband. Lara got the Minnie hat with polka-dot bow and her name embroidered on the back. After all, she may only visit Disney;and once in her lifetime! Might as well go all out!

Next…. we headed for “It’s A Small World”. We warned Lara….when you leave this ride you will have that song singing in your head for the rest of the day! The exciting part of this ride was finding the German scene. For those who have not been to Disneyland, this ride features animated characters from every country around the world singing “It’s A Small World” in that country’s language. Lara was a little disappointed that the Germany display was not as large as others and it showed a man in the mountains. I teased her saying it should have had girls dressed in Bavarian outfits holding mugs of beer…because that’s how Germany is often portrayed to people in America! LOL

Next stop was Toon Town. That’s where I knew we would have our best chance at getting a picture of Mickey or Minnie Mouse! We saw Minnie Mouse outside of her house but the line was so long to see her so we went to Mickey’s house. We took a lot of pictures there, mostly for Lara’s mom since she is such a Mickey Mouse fan. Not only does she collect Mickey items, she even has their bathroom decorated with Mickey! After taking pictures there were two places to leave Mickey’s house. One exit was obvious. But then I saw a sign that said, ‘Meet Mickey This Way”. I poked my head in the room and saw just a few people waiting in a line and a man standing at a door. I thought, “Let’s see what this is for.” The man then opened the door and ushered four families into a room. A few minutes later, he opened the door again and ushered in 3 other families in front of us….and us! Inside the room was Mickey Mouse for our own private photo shoot with him! Oh my gosh! We were in shock! When it was our turn, we introduced ourselves to Mickey and told him Lara was from Germany as our Exchange Student and her mother was a big fan of his! He was so cute, posing for several pictures with all of us! We walked out and were still in shock at what just happened! But not too hocked to run over to where Goofy was to get our picture with him too! I guess we were just in the right place at the right time! Certainly some special moments!

As we came out of Toontown, the Main Street parade was starting with loud music and dancers and huge, colorful floats! It’s also about the time my camera battery died! We snapped a few pictures of the Little Mermaid and some Princesses on floats! Another magical moment indeed!

We then entered Fantasyland, home to he Carousel and the infamous Teacups. Lara and I are not fans of spinning in circles but we went on the ride anyway, as Brittany promised she wouldn’t spin the teacup a lot! It really didn’t matter. Lara and I got very dizzy anyway but not Brittany. She went on the ride again, while Lara and I recovered our dizzy vision!

From their, Frontierland and New Orleans Square where we went to the Haunted Mansion and then to Pirates of the Caribbean. Lara and Brittany loved it! I think it’s one of my favorites too! Did you know that ride is 15 minutes long… the longest in the park?

Soon, it was time for the infamous Disney Fantasmic show. While Terry and I secured a spot to wait 20 minutes for the show to begin, the girls took advantage of the time and rode Pirates of the Caribbean once again. Waiting 20 minutes for the show was nothing compared to some people who we saw waiting in the area 3 hours BEFORE the show started! Here’s a link of a video someone recorded to give you an idea of what it is. Trust me, it’s not even comparable to the real thing!

After the show, we stayed to watch an amazing fireworks show to music and narration and then we started to make our way out of the park through Adventureland where we climbed Tarzan’s Treehouse and went on the Jungle cruise.

As we made our way down Main Street USA again to leave the park, we made several stops in the shops for souvenirs. And then… just as we were ready to leave… there was Minnie Mouse taking pictures and signing autographs! I told the girls to get in line to meet Minnie and then stressed out! Remember? My camera battery died after the parade! I thought I’d try one more time and fortunately I was able to sneak out two more pictures! Terry got the picture of Lara with his phone! Whew! I couldn’t miss that magical moment!!!

After 13 hours in the park, we were exhausted and freezing! But memories of a lifetime were made, I had two happy 15-year-old girls…one of which did something she only dreamed of before! She truly wished upon a star and dreams came true! Enjoy the pictures! We took plenty! Next stop…. and next Blog…. Universal Studios and Newport Beach!

First American Halloween


It’s almost a week late… but I’m finally getting caught up on Posts… so here’s one on Lara’s first American Halloween!

To start with… YES… they celebrate Halloween in Germany! Everyone has asked the same question… including me! It’s mostly for little kids to go trick-or-treating…just as it is here. But they also have Halloween Parties and dress up in costume at all ages. Halloween actually started in Europe.

Lara’s first Halloween in America turned out to be a week-long affair. It started with a Halloween Party at her friend’s house on October 22nd. Katie is in Lara’s English class, and also a friend and softball teammate to our daughter, Brittany. Both girls were invited but Brittany was out-of-town so this was also Lara’s first party to attend by herself. Our older daughter, Amber, helped Lara put a Witch’s costume together with a combination of some things Lara had and things amber had. Amber brought Lara to the party. I picked her up. Lara had fun! Lara also has a special bond with Katie’s family so that helps! Katie’s mother has relatives in Germany and talk at our daughters’ softball games about life there! It’s been quite an education for all of us.

Lara and the Schreiner girls!

On the following Friday night, the 28th, we all went to an annual Halloween Party at our oldest son’s house. Tyler and his wife, Sharon, spare no expense in decorations! Last year was their first party, before they were married.

Strawberry Ghosts

Brittany, Lara and I went there to help decorate and make food items the night before. We made Ghosts out of Chocolate-covered strawberries and a 7-layer dip that looked like a spider web.

The night before Halloween, Lara and Brittany carved Pumpkins and made some great Pumpkin Seeds. They googled a recipe and put them in the oven while they carved their pumplins. And yes… they carve pumpkins in Germany too!

On Halloween night, Lara and Brittany attended a YoungLife Costume-Dance Party. Previous Blogs have explained YoungLife, Both girls decided they wanted to dress up as something different…and they looked so cute! Lara was Minnie Mouse. Brittany was a Little Girl. Their friend Katie was “Dora the Explorer”. I told them it was like looking at a Little Girl with her two favorite things… a Minnie Mouse and Dora! They are still little kids at heart, I guess!

Our entire family attended the party and we were all in costume! You can see all the pictures below!!!






















Travel creates a Family Bond


Turn around and SMILE!!!

9 days of traveling together, visiting new places and dealing with what life throws at you… it’s what makes a family bond with each other….especially when a German Exchange Student is with you!

Pictures are worth a thousand words… so I thought I’d let photos explain how much we bonded with each other while traveling to Washington DC and New York City! We had so many moments of silliness…and closeness! Enjoy… and be sure to Laugh Out Loud with us!


Lara and the National Anthem!
Lara for President!
Brittany for President!
This is an “inside joke” to us!!
Pet a Buffalo!
Kiss a Buffalo!


Cool Dude!

At the Market!

Subway ride

Don’t get hit by the train!

Bus ride?
Waiting for the bus


Taking Brittany’s picture!
Planning the next day!
Cheesy smiles in Central Park!
NYC store named after Lara!!!
Britt trying to stay dry!
Mother-Daughter/Central Park
Soaking up sun at Ellis Island
Tired girls at Ellis Island
Subway fun
Kicking it up!
Take THAT!
Are they in pain or making a funny face?
Kiss me!
Taking Lara’s picture!
Crazy Host Mom!
Stop it, MOM!!!
Aren’t we cute!

TAKING TIME TO BE SILLY!!! We did this at Great Falls National Park and laughed the hardest here than we did anywhere! The captions under each picture explain what kind of face Brittany was calling out for us to make! HYSTERICAL!!!









OH NO!!!





















Hello Mr. President!

Lincoln Memorial

Brittany's Birthday Dinner

The Capital

Great Falls National Park

Times Square

Times Square

Liberty Island

State of Liberty