Laura VanOtteren–Advice for College Hunters

Welcome to the blog! Can you tell us your full name and any nicknames?
Laura Michelle Lambeth VanOtteren. One nickname growing up was “Lambchop” and in college I guess you can say I was affectionately called “LaLa”.

What do you do for a living?
I have been a substitute teacher for eleven years (and am guessing I will be starting my twelfth in August). I did teach middle school music for one year. I am also a church pianist and just started that a year ago at Darien United Methodist Church. This church has a neat piece of history: when Sherman was burning his way through Georgia, this church was the only one that did NOT burn.

How old are you?
I’ll let you guess with some clues in future questions. Read on..

Where do you live?
I currently live in Brunswick, Georgia, have lived in the state of Georgia for the last 25 years (that might he a clue to my age), but grew up as an Air Force “brat” for 17 1/2 years, so then I really didn’t know where I was from. (Another possible clue to my age?)

The most interesting place you’ve visited?
Two…Egypt and Israel. It was simply amazing to see the ancient architecture still standing and in Egypt when you went underground into the tombs, you still saw COLOR, like the tombs had just been painted! I got my first proposal in Egypt! I thought I was pretty well hidden in the middle of the tour group, but the guide pointed to me and said, “I’m going to marry you in 5 years.” My braces were what saved me at the moment because he said he wouldn’t marry me if I still had those. Israel was incredible because we went with the church and we did everything correctly. Having Communion where the tomb was found was SO MOVING. Walking Via Dolorosa, going to Bethlehem, we did it all right. Even went up to Masada.

How did the Egypt and Israel trip come about?
In my Air Force “brat” days, Daddy’s best assignment was our three years in Belgium I was twelve to fifteen (seventh grade through freshman year). SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) had a wonderful touring company and the only trip Daddy EVER asked to go on was to Egypt and it was expensive! We stayed in four and five star hotels, I think. I was the youngest in the group. The Israel trip was planned through the English-speaking Baptist church that was in the community. This was a trip Mom found out about and only Mom and I could go because there was a base-wide “exercise” going on that Daddy had to stay behind for.

Your favorite meal would be?
I make a killer leg of lamb dinner for Christmas Eve that I love and learned in French class when we were in Belgium. In French class, we went out the whole nine yards and had ALL the courses down to having REAL wine. The beauty of being in an international school system.

Wow, Belgium. Are there other foreign countries you’ve lived in?
Unfortunately no, but many of my friends from my “brat” days (and yes, that is a very affectionate term) did get to or they got to stay at SHAPE a lot longer than three years.

Pet peeve?
Those fidget spinners that are all the rage were the most annoying thing ever in the classroom. They did not serve the purpose they were made for. Sorry.

Favorite book, or movie, or TV show?
“Charlotte’s Web” was a favorite growing up. I think I lost count how many times I read it. I do like to read John Grisham and I did LOVE “The Shack”. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to. Love “Dancing With the Stars” and “America’s Got Talent.”

One thing many people don’t know you can do?
Well, I was required to take two semesters of organ as part of my music degree and I was church organist at First Baptist Church in Douglas, Georgia for nine years, I think. And before I took the church pianist job I have now, I had been singing tenor at College Place United Methodist Church in their choir for eight years. (Sorry, that is two things.)

If you had any spare time, what would you do with it?
Travel the world and get lots of sleep!

Can you tell us some interesting things that aren’t already covered?
I made seven moves in 17 ½ years as an Air Force “brat” and it’s always fun when people ask me where I’m from because I say “pick a year and I’ll tell you where I was” and that just totally blows their mind. Then I explain why. During orientation at college, when we were introducing ourselves and I said I was from Raleigh, they said “no, you’re not.” I said, “Ok, let me explain” and then I had to tell them my life story and explain that we had just moved from Ohio to Raleigh FIVE DAYS before arriving to campus. So, my accent was screwed up.

If people want to pray for you, they could pray for..?
The next year…read on!

Are you married or have you been? Any kids or pets?
Very happily married! Ed and I have been married for 25 years, but only six wedding anniversaries, so when did I get married? (Another possible age clue.) I have two wonderful girls in my house, who are both rising seniors in high school (yikes). We only have one daughter of our own (and yes, she is legitimate, going back to talking about when I got married), but we have guardianship of another wonderful seventeen-year-old that we have known for five years and a situation came up that we knew we needed to open our home to her and we have and we do not regret it one bit! So college hunting has been in the process and applications will be in the near future. This is where the prayer requests are coming from for the next year. There is also a four-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever in this house named Buck and he is just a sweetheart most of the time. I give him the most loving. He was bought to be a duck-hunting dog with Ed, but that is the last thing Buck is interested in.

What’s Buck like when he’s NOT being a sweetheart?
We still see the marks around the house from when he was a puppy and was in the chewing stage. I caught him first chewing on the window ledge! One Sunday morning he got mad when we kicked him out of our bedroom and I think he was bored, so he chewed the wall outside of Josie’s room. And the large picnic table on the porch? Well, he had a dandy time chewing all around that when he was on the porch in his first couple of years. He chewed the benches and the tabletop.

Can you tell us a little more about the other wonderful seventeen year old?
I met Nellie one day while substituting five years ago. She had come to the states for what was intended to be a very brief time and has turned out to be much longer. Nellie has dual-citizenship because her father was Scottish and passed away when she was nine and her mother is American. Nellie, her mother and stepfather came to the states to begin a sailboat ministry. After about a little over a year, her mother went to Scotland to find Nellie a boarding school and Nellie needed a place to stay for the two weeks her mother would be gone. We opened our home to her. Nellie left for boarding school a few weeks later and was very excited about this. She came back in the summertime and continued to go back and forth between her boarding school and Georgia for two and a half years. Then things changed and Nellie could no longer go to the boarding school. This past fall, when she should have been in school again, she wrote a letter to several of us that are close friends and told us everything she had been up to, including the job working at the ice cream shop and mentioned that she was not currently in school. When we read this part of her story, we wanted her to finish school. We face-timed with her shortly thereafter and invited her into our home here in the States and now she is on track to graduate on time with Josie and the Class of 2018! Her goal is to attend Duke University and eventually go into medicine.

So, that is Nellie’s story. I call her “My Nellie” and I have adored her since the day she walked in the classroom and I had her for three days as a student and I was a substitute.

I wasn’t sure how my parents would handle this, but they just opened their arms up wide open to Nellie and they have a second granddaughter who has bright red hair and TONS of freckles. Quite a contrast from my blond Josie!

What’s the most frustrating thing about hunting for colleges? The most fun? And can you offer us some advice for college hunters?
Getting to a starting point, deciding where to look. Visiting the colleges was a ton of fun. Things have really changed since we were in school. A lot more places to eat on campus and the food is SO MUCH BETTER. There are also more choices for dorms – just one roommate like what we had or suites or some have apartments where you can have even more roommates right there on campus. I think living in the suites would be nice. I had two great roommates, so I can’t complain.

Have fun looking for colleges and don’t put it off. Decide on where you want to be…Warm area? Cold area? There are fifty states, so don’t tie them down too close to home. Let them fly the coop! Ed kept telling Josie to apply in Alaska so we could go up in the summertime to go fishing or Maine so they could go moose hunting. He’s always thinking about hunting and fishing.

Laura, thanks much for sharing with us. Good luck and God bless with the college transitions with BOTH your girls.