Alt for Norge – Holy Week and the Most Difficult Challenge of All…

After the camera crew left, it was Holy Week, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about anything aside from church and doing the final hospital and homebound visits before my departure. I left a lot of instructions for the deacons and the secretary and also for the pastors who would be subbing for me on Sundays. We had services on Thursday and Friday and on Sunday we had a wonderful Easter morning complete with an Easter egg hunt for the children, breakfast, and decorating a cross outside with fresh flowers. I was relieved when church was over that day – exhilarated, actually. I hadn’t taken a Sunday off in over six months. I knew I needed a break and I was so grateful that I would soon be getting one.

I didn’t know what to expect in the weeks to come but I knew whatever it was, it would be a different time, an alternate circumstance to the one in which I had been living. I needed that so badly. I think stepping apart from one’s own life for a time is valuable in so many ways – especially when one is starting to feel stale and stagnant. I love my work and my family and my church deeply, I have been given so much that is so good – I will not tolerate myself seeing any of it as stale or stagnant. My most heartfelt prayer in those days was that being away from my life for a while would give me fresh eyes and a renewed heart again.

In the final days before I left, the boys stayed home from school so we could be together. We went to the zoo in Fort Worth and I got to meet up with a friend who came to visit from Wisconsin. I figured out the last-minute things I needed to get. I found myself worrying a lot about little things – like how much my hair would grow while I was in Norway and if I would ever have the chance to color it there. My natural hair color is very gray and I knew within a few weeks I would have a distinct line visible on my head where the brownish red lowlights stopped and the natural gray came in. I invested in a hat that I thought I might wear at some point to cover it all up. I brought it to Norway and back and then gave it away – it was an ugly hat. I never wore it.

The morning I left, my sons and I played baseball out in the yard for a while. They took turns asking if I really had to go. I kept saying I would probably be back very soon – just a few weeks. I said if I was gone longer, I would just have to stay to the very end so I could win the prize for them and then they could come to Norway, too. They seemed somewhat satisfied with that answer. We drove to the airport, stopping on the way to have lunch in Hillsboro. I felt so excited and sad at the same time. I never for even a moment considered not going, but I knew my heart was going to burst right in two when I had to say goodbye to my boys. I had envisioned our parting many times and had thought about how I would try my best to be cheerful and upbeat so that they would hopefully not take it all so hard. When we finally stopped at the airport and got out my luggage and it was time to part, however, I was distinctly and unashamedly crying. They clung to me and it was all terribly sad. Still, as I hugged them and Chad and then watched them drive away, I felt pretty good – because I knew that now I had already completed the most difficult challenge I would face in this whole Alt for Norge experience. Next, I just had to go have some fun.

Alt for Norge – On your mark, get set…

I was so shocked to be selected. I am quiet country pastor in my early forties. I’ve always gravitated toward the academic and the introspective far more than lights, camera and action. Some of my closest friends were astounded I had even wanted to apply to be on a reality show in Norway. I can’t even explain how much I wanted to do it, and how once I applied, I longed to be selected. I had absolutely no doubt I should do it and that it would be an immensely good experience.

The next months were mostly fantastic as I prepared to go. I studied some Norwegian in the car on my way to and from hospital visits. I ran four miles every morning and was feeling great. I tried to prepare my church for my absence – which was the most difficult part. When I told the church council what I had been accepted to do, they gave me their blessing and seemed very excited for me and I was so happy and relieved about that. As I had hoped would be their reaction, they were glad that I could learn more about Norway and make connections with the country of our origin. They agreed to let me use my vacation and then if I was gone longer than my allotted vacation, I agreed to pay for pulpit supply in my absence. Unfortunately, as time went by, I found not all were happy for me and some were even upset that I hadn’t told them before I applied. I heard grumblings that some felt it would be a bad thing for me to participate in a reality show. Of course, this began to dampen my spirits but I knew I had to keep everything in perspective. I couldn’t make everyone understand why this was so important for me to do. I couldn’t make everyone agree it was a wonderful thing that their pastor could experience such a thing. Not everyone automatically saw my point of view – that our church had been here for 140 years before I ever arrived and they would be fine without me for 2-10 weeks. I didn’t want to upset anyone – but I also knew I couldn’t plan my life around the reactions and feelings of a few who thought this wasn’t a worthwhile venture. I needed to go. Those who didn’t understand that would learn to accept it. I was going to Norway! Woo-hoo! For the first time in a very long time I had something so deeply cool and it was all for me! I chose to be happy about that.

A camera crew was sent to our home a couple weeks before I left for Norway. First, they interviewed me and then they filmed us as a family – playing basketball, playing a game, the boys helping me pack, and me jogging down to the cemetery. I have never looked over my house with such a critical eye as I did when I knew there would be cameras filming in those rooms. I realized with dismay that many of my decorations, well, just suck. I have never invested any time, money, or energy into decorative items and so my house was basically decorated in a rag-tag bunch of items I had been given over the years: a dream catcher here, some colorful scarves there, a whole LOT of ugly religious art bestowed upon me by dear parishioners whom I love. I decided if I was ever going to put any thought into how I would like to decorate my rooms instead of just hanging up some things by default since there was a nail there and someone gave me something to hang on it, the time was now.

I started scouring pinterest for inexpensive decorating ideas. I made some cool wall hangings for the bedrooms and they turned out great. I cleaned and straightened and purged all the rooms until everything was so tidy it looked like we were half moved-out and the children were afraid to touch anything for fear of me getting after them for upsetting my precisely staged household.

It was the day before Palm Sunday when the director, Astrid, and three members of a camera arrived at our house. After filming at the parsonage all day Saturday, they came to church on Sunday and filmed there at worship and lunch. Some of the church ladies made some Norwegian foods and we sang the Norwegian national anthem. It was a very lovely day. The director wanted to film the congregation waving “goodbye” to me and so we did that. I was so glad to have the church featured in the filming because it was really my church’s love for all things Norwegian that had made me more interested in my own heritage. Growing up in Minnesota, I had really taken my Norwegian heritage for granted because so many people there had Scandinavian roots. Leaving that behind for many years and then coming to live here felt like coming home in many ways and these years here have taught me so much about my own history.

I absolutely loved the camera crew and the director – they were so nice and pleasant to work with. After they left I felt even more peaceful about being a part of Alt for Norge because it was already such a good experience. I was certain there would just be more good stuff to come. Soon.

Here is the beautiful video Alt for Norge made from their visit to my home in Texas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQYgiT9Wq_8

Alt for Norge – the Journey to Chicago

It was only a few weeks later that I received an e-mail that I was being flown to Chicago to meet with the producers. I didn’t know how many people got to come to these “callbacks” but I read somewhere it was maybe 40-60 people. My only plan was to just go and be myself and have fun and enjoy the moment. After all, how many times in my life was I going to be flown somewhere to meet with a casting director? The casting office in Chicago made all my arrangements and I was flown into Chicago on a February evening. I took the train into Chicago and then proceeded to get lost and wandered around downtown Chicago for about an hour before I found the hotel. Fortunately, there were lots of street lights and people out and about even though it was quite late, but I still was getting frustrated because it was very cold and I couldn’t figure out the direction to go for the longest time even though I had a map of downtown Chicago in my hands! I have come to rely on my phone to tell me directions but my phone was out of battery and without it, I was literally lost for a bit. As I wandered, I laughed to myself that maybe finding the hotel was the first challenge in the Alt for Norge competition and I was failing miserably! Finally, I got going in the right direction and knew I was getting close. I actually walked right by the hotel several times before I found it. It was a very cool place – and looked like no other hotel I had ever been to. Once I could plug in my phone, I called my husband and told him I wasn’t nearly cool enough to be at that hotel. (This is the hotel: http://www.acmehotelcompany.com/) There was great artwork everywhere and just a vibe that was the opposite of a regular chain hotel in most every way. I set down my small bag in my hotel room and immediately went down to the bar for a ridiculously expensive martini and appetizer. Then, off to bed – I had to get up early the next morning to go to my audition!

It was pouring rain the next morning and I had to make it across Chicago to the casting office. The casting office had given me directions for how to take the bus there but after getting lost the night before, and not having taken a city bus for about twenty years, I decided to just ask the front desk to get a cab for me and that worked out really well. I made it to the casting office with about an hour to spare so I walked to a nearby coffee shop and had some coffee and a scone.

When the time got closer, I walked back to the casting office and entered. I had to fill out some forms and then waited for just a short time before the casting director, Joan O’Connor, came out to greet me. She told me that the Norwegian producers would be in one corner of the room and I could greet them but when I answered the questions, to talk to her and not them. She brought me into the room and I greeted the Norwegians – who all seemed to be impossibly good-looking and very well-dressed. I sat down and began to answer the questions and I don’t remember a lot of the questions. I do remember she asked me what my parents would think if they knew I got to go to Norway, and just the thought of that made me tear up. I said that they would be so glad to know I had the chance to go even though they never got that opportunity. She probably only interviewed me for ten minutes and then I was done. I remember she remarked that I “looked really good on camera” – which I enjoyed hearing. I didn’t get to meet any other people who were there auditioning. Just like that, my moment auditioning for something was over and it was time to go home.

It was just a few days later I was sitting in a meeting and I got an e-mail that Joan O’Connor, the casting director, had a few more questions for me and she wanted to Facetime with me sometime that day. It turned out she only had one question, which was, “Do you still want to go to Norway?” And I found out I was selected. I could not freaking believe it. I still can’t.

Right after I finished talking to Joan, I went to eat lunch with the other pastors in the meeting and could hardly eat a bite. I called Chad and told him the good news. A little later that day, I told the bishop’s assistant who was there at the meeting, and as soon as our activities for the day were over, I went to my room and watched Alt for Norge videos on youtube and marveled at what was to come.

The Road to Norge

(I’m going to take some time to recount my experiences leading up to and participating in Alt for Norge for any who might care to know about this wonderful journey. Here is my first entry:)

I was on a Norwegian Reality Show.

I still can hardly believe I did such a fun thing. I hope that when I am old and reclining on my death bed, my children will share that story with the nurses tending to me or the chaplain visiting that day. They’ll say, “Yes, she was a pastor and a great mom…and this one time she was even on a wildly popular Norwegian reality show.” I treasure this story like a precious gem among all the lovely stories I’m collecting in this life.

The reality show is called “Alt for Norge”. It has been on the air in Norway for five seasons and they select 12 U.S. citizens with Norwegian ancestry to come over to Norway and participate in challenges while learning more about Norwegian culture and history and customs. I wasn’t most interested in the competition (although I have to say, the competitions in which we participated were so good-natured and positive that I very much enjoyed them) or because there was the chance I could win $50,000 (although if I had won it certainly would have been a nice nest-egg for my sons’ college education) or even that I had the chance to meet my living Norwegian relatives (although it would have been stupendous to meet them – and I do very much hope to meet them someday, without cameras rolling). I was mostly deeply enchanted by the idea of doing something so different and fun, getting to experience Norway, and connecting with the land that my parents always wanted to see but never got a chance to do so while they were alive, the land my ancestors left in the late 1800’s.

I filled out the application and filmed a short audition video right after Christmas. I had heard about the show through a fellow I dated for about two seconds back in seminary. He posted an article about the show on Facebook and I clicked on it – and the more I learned about it, the more interested I was. I devoured episodes of the show I could watch on youtube. The more I watched, the more I believed I needed to be a part of it. Maybe it was because the people they had selected to participate in the past had all seemed like people I would like to know – they seemed like people who would be great to have as friends. Maybe it was because I liked the heart of the show so much and it always seemed to be about so much more than the silly competitions. Maybe it was because I had been learning more about Norway in recent years and I felt like this was a great way to expand on that. Or maybe it was just because a new adventure sounded, really, really good. Whatever it was, I was as certain as I have ever been about anything that I wanted to be on Alt for Norge.

Great Norwegian Adventure!

In case you would like to check out the adventure of a lifetime:

NORWEGIAN REALITY TV VIEWERS ARE SO FASCINATED BY AMERICANS THAT WE’RE CASTING SEASON 6 OF ‘THE GREAT NORWAY ADVENTURE’!

Chicago’s O’Connor Casting Company is conducting a nationwide casting search for Season 6 of Norway’s #1 Emmy award winning Reality TV show “Alt for Norge” (aka “The Great Norway Adventure”).

The series follows 12 Norwegian-Americans who fly to Norway and immerse themselves in the culture and compete in a series of adventurous and fun challenges. The winner receives a CASH prize of $50,000.00 and meets Norwegian relatives they don’t even know exist.

According to Norwegian producer Thor Oreld, the show is popular with viewers because “Norwegians love to see Americans react to typical Norwegian things. We can laugh about their poor adaptation to Norwegian culture and laugh at ourselves as they point out weird customs that we take for granted. When we think about it, it is kind of strange that every Norwegian cabin has a portrait of the king and queen in the outhouse.”

Casting Producer Joan O’Connor says that many people apply because they want a deeper connection to their past. Others, like Season 5’s Kent Luetzen, 22 crave the adventure, but are surprised by what happens.

Luetzen says, “The intense emotion of standing on my family farm that I originated from was unexpected. I learned that everyone comes from generations of success, failure, hardships, love, and a lot of hard working people. Now it’s my turn to leave a mark in my family history, so that in a hundred years when a 22 year old college kid is looking at his lineage, he’ll see my name and be proud of his last name and the things I accomplished.”

In the past 5 seasons there’ve been 58 cast members from all over the United States. So far two from different seasons married each other and one has moved to Norway. Anyone can apply as long as they are American with Norwegian ancestry (even a little bit counts) who are age 18+ and have never traveled to Norway. For all information and to apply online go to http://oconnorcasting.tv/ and click on “Casting Board.”

This series is produced by Norway’s Monster Entertainment. For PRESS INFORMATION contact Joan O’Connor at 312-226-9112 or email joan@oconnorcasting.tv To view clips go to http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnZl8GlFBc3lyFmuUpC7Mg

What is Alt for Norge?

Alt for Norge is a Norwegian television show in which US Citizens who have Norwegian ancestry come to Norway to learn more about Norwegian heritage and history. My “profile video” was just released yesterday and so for the first time I’m really sharing with a lot of my friends from back home and other parts of my life about this great adventure. You can look at my profile video and lots of other info about the show here: https://www.facebook.com/altfornorge?fref=photo

I still can’t get over the fact that I was able to participate in such a unique thing and become a part of such a great show. Looking forward to the premiere when it comes out in the fall and reflecting on it all with the other cast members when we get together in Minneapolis.

Fifteen Things I Learned from Being on a Norwegian Reality Show

Earlier this spring I participated in the filming of the fifth season of Alt for Norge, a Norwegian reality show. I can’t give out details of the experience until after the show airs in the fall, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I spent there and here are just a few things I learned:

1. Just as I was told it would be, Norway is simply beautiful. It is so clean and cool and green. I can’t wait to return someday.

2. Being on a Norwegian reality show is fun. The first day in Norway we participated in a photo shoot at TV Norge where they are making commercials and posters featuring all of us for the fall line-up of shows. To get my hair and makeup done and pose for the cameras was an interesting and cool experience. TV Norge said we’ll get copies of some of those photographs in the fall – it will be fun to share them with you.

3. Being on a Norwegian reality show takes a lot of patience – there was so much hilarity and adventure but also a LOT of waiting: waiting for camera setups, waiting for people to get in place, waiting for interviews.

4. If you are in a Norwegian restaurant, have the fish – you’ll never be disappointed.

5. A common saying about Norwegians is that they are “born on skis” – skiing is a popular hobby among much of the population. It had been about twenty years since I had been on skis and I was never good at it back then – and as it turns out, I’m not any better at it now.

6. I learned that while most Norwegians left Norway because of the poverty and lack of land in Norway and the possibility for land and religious freedom in the United States, there were others who left for different reasons – namely, a fresh start for their family and for their family name. (This revelation came to me after I was given particular information about my own family history while I was in Norway…I can’t elaborate now but it will be part of an early episode)

7. While some people, namely most of the other cast members, seemed to love being in front of the camera and having their life and conversations being filmed, I found it to be slightly entertaining for a couple days but then after that I was less than enchanted with the process of having to reconstruct conversations for the camera, being interviewed incessantly about the “challenges” we had to do and our thoughts about this or that. It’s good that I never aspired to be in front of the camera for a career – because a little limelight goes a long way with me. It was a great experience and I am so glad I could do it, but the friendships made with the other cast members and the things we saw and did were much more valuable to me than actually being a part of the filming. Upon reflection, I think being a director would be a very hard job – to try to find a balance between dealing with the people who crave the spotlight and those who are nonplussed by the camera operations and incessant questions (me) would be constant challenge.

8. Most of the time we were being filmed for challenges, we were outdoors, it was freezing cold or raining, and there was no access to mirrors or makeup – so it’s awesome that for majority of my stint as a Norwegian television personality I will probably be looking about as good as an uncooked chicken leg with glasses and a stocking cap.

9. It’s nice to have a chance to write in a journal and live out of a backpack and remember what that feels like. But it is even nicer to come home and be with my boys and spouse.

10. I feel like I’m still in my 20’s – until I hang out with a bunch of people in their 20’s – then I remember I’m definitely in my 40’s.

11. There are many places in Norway where you can get sparkling (carbonated) water out of the tap. Out of the TAP! Seriously – one faucet will have regular water and the faucet right next to it has wonderful sparkling water. I need this innovation in the parsonage immediately.

12. One can get used to the little luxuries of being on a reality show cast very quickly: we never had to make any plans or arrange any details of our days. We were told when to wake up, given clothes to wear (I now have a pretty great cold weather wardrobe I was given to KEEP!), fed delectable meals, stayed in (mostly) excellent accommodations, shown gorgeous sights, and then our “job” was to participate in fun “challenges” (these challenges were never hard – each one was mostly based on luck or speed, not skill). It was not a hard life.

13. The greatest part of being on Alt for Norge was spending time with the rest of the cast. What a truly wonderful group of people. I laughed SO much.

14. I learned that while you can take the pastor away from her congregation, the congregation is never, ever far from the pastor’s heart and thoughts. Each day when I was writing in my journal I would write down all the things we were doing so I would never forget, but then I found myself also always writing about my prayers for my congregation – wondering how they were and what was happening. Since we couldn’t have contact with anyone while we were in Norway, it wasn’t until I called my husband to tell him I was on the way home that I found out one of the active members of our church had died shortly after I left. It’s still difficult for me to believe he is really dead. I went to visit his grave site in our cemetery as soon as I got home and stood there for a long time, wondering how it could be possible that the last time I had seen him we had been having a conversation in the Parish hall just like we always did, and now his body was laid to rest in that rocky Texas soil. I can’t believe I wasn’t here to lead his funeral service, to sit with his wife and family and pray with them in the days that followed. I feel sad about that and yet I knew when I left that there was the very real possibility something like this could happen in my absence.

15. Just as I imagined it would be, the experience of Alt for Norge was tremendous. It was challenging and restorative and invigorating. I made wonderful friends whom I cannot wait to see again. I saw places I never dreamed I would get to see and did things beyond the imagination. Stay tuned for more stories in the fall when I can share more.