An Easter Message From the Noteworthy Mommy

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! How vastly different this Easter was compared to last year! Although we had to make reservations at church, participated in Easter worship on Saturday night, wore masks, and were unable to gather with my in-laws, it was a glorious celebration! Through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior we find hope.

I know my Easter message is a bit late, Easter Sunday has come and gone after all, but don’t forget, it is still Easter. Easter begins with the resurrection of our Lord and extends through Pentecost, so that gives me 50 days to send my readers Easter blessings! Below is a fun Easter activity that kids of all ages will enjoy. Easter Sunday has passed but we continue to celebrate our risen Savior!

Alleluia Shakers– My church has a special tradition of Alleluia Shakers during the Easter season. A basket of Alleluia Shakers for the young members of our congregation are usually found at the entrance to the sanctuary and the children enjoy shaking them every time they hear or sing the word Alleluia. COVID has prevented us from having the basket of shakers at church so my daughter made her own. We decorated a plastic egg and filled it with rice to make our shakers. CLICK HERE to learn how to make a shaker of your own. We are taking them to church throughout the Easter season and proudly shake them in celebration of the good news that Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! We made extras to share with our home bound friends as part of our Live Generously ministry.

As we begin to see the other side of the pandemic, may you safely gather again with family and friends, rejoice in the fact that favorite activities are being reintroduced into your life and never forget the lessons the past year has taught. Some things may stay forever changed but one thing will never change… Jesus loves you!

A Year Living In the COVID-19 Pandemic… A Noteworthy Reflection

March 17, 2020, was the day our lives changed. That’s the day our school shut down, our church closed its physical doors, and I realized COVID-19 was something serious.

I found comfort through writing, instantly publishing daily blog accounts of how my daughter and I spent our days in isolation. I shared my early childhood expertise through links, activity downloads and personal reflection. Putting my words out into the world was my way of trying to do good, an attempt to help parents and caregivers navigate our “new normal.”

Nothing was normal this year. If we give the past year a grade, most would agree that it earned a big red F! An F for failure! In fact, there are several choice “f” words that come to mind when one thinks of living an entire year in a global pandemic! It certainly isn’t a year any of us would have chosen for ourselves…we didn’t see it coming.

The last 365 days have been a roller coaster of emotions. I was fearful, especially during the beginning, when there were so many unknowns. Countless nights were spent lying awake in fear; worrying about my family, mourning my pre-pandemic life, and contemplating the future. But the year wasn’t a total failure. There were bright spots amidst the darkness. As I browse my blog posts other “f” words emerge from the screen like faith, family, fun and friends. These words are proof that goodness shone through the fear.

COVID-19 took so much away (my consulting job, my music, live performances, travel, time with extended family and friends, the list goes on… But when all of those things were taken away, what was left was a true blessing and something I took for granted…quality time with my family of three. When I look back at my pandemic posts my heart fills with joy when I see the sweet memories my little family made, remember how we relished in life’s simplicities and found creative ways to do the familiar. (car parades, drive through celebrations and Zoom play dates) And with more time at home, I began studying God’s word and strengthening my faith.

My family of three, Christmas 2020.

The pandemic has taught me that when you have faith, family and friends, you can face uncertainty, loss and disparity and emerge resilient. You can tackle fear head on, learn from your mistakes, and strive to make the most from your circumstances. When you have faith, family and friends, you have hope. And that hope gets you through the unthinkable. It helps you survive anything, even a national pandemic. It changes you, makes you see beyond yourself and makes you better as a result.

In a year that received a failing grade, lessons were learned, lives were changed. To quote a song from one of my favorite musicals. “I have been changed, for good.” I’m not dismissing the fact that the pandemic brought great loss and incredible struggle. As you read this you may be one of the many individuals who continue to physically and mentally struggle from this unprecedented year. Please find hope and encouragement in my words and know that I’m with you. God is with you and you don’t have to walk alone.

Kindness…The Universal Language

The Kindness Project– My daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed, started a weekly kindness project last month. She gives her students a kindness challenge to accomplish every weekend. Some challenges are easy like, “say something kind to your parents” or “call someone and say hi.” Others require a bit more effort like “thank a pastor,” thank the school administrators,” “do something kind for a friend” or “send a card to someone.” All of the challenges are age appropriate tasks to develop a servant heart in the lives of young students. So imagine my surprise when one of the challenges made me reach outside of my comfort zone and transformed my heart forever.

The challenge seemed simple enough, “do something kind for a neighbor.” I thought we could pick our neighbors down the street who have a daughter Lillian’s age or do something nice for the Rogers family, two houses down. They go to our church. But when I asked my daughter which neighbor she wanted to pick she enthusiastically chose our next door neighbors who own Pikachu and Benji, two dogs she absolutely adores! The dogs owners are friendly but we don’t know them very well. They don’t speak much English so our communication with them has never gone beyond a neighborly wave and a nod. Why did my daughter have to pick them? Will our next door neighbors understand why we are giving them homemade cookies and a drawing created with crayons? (what my daughter decided she wanted to give our neighbors) Why couldn’t my daughter pick someone familiar?

Then I thought… What would Jesus do? Would He play it safe or reach out to the unknown? Although this kindness task would force me to step out of my safe haven, I knew I had to assist my daughter and complete the kindness challenge with our next door neighbors. When we rang the doorbell and they didn’t answer, we left the goodies on their door mat. A few days later we saw them in the yard and they waved an enthusiastic thank you and I could tell they were greatly touched by the huge smile on their faces! My heart was overjoyed!

A few weeks later our doorbell rang and our neighbors’ son was at the door with a very special surprise! He was home from college and had a special delivery for my mini me… a stuffed dog that looked like Benji (their dog) and a handwritten heartfelt note that he had written for his parents. It was touching to learn that a small act of kindness meant so very much to them!

All of this happened because of the kindness project initiated by my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and my daughter’s huge heart. As a mother I am hyper focused on all of the things I want to teach my daughter that I never stopped to realize all of the wonderful things I’m learning from being her mother! And what a blessing it is to send our daughter to a Lutheran School where she is growing academically but more importantly learning about Jesus and how to serve others. An authentic friendship has developed between our families and I am thankful my daughter helped me reach out to someone new. I learned that when you show kindness and love to others, language is no longer a barrier!

History Made.

History has been made! Regardless of what political party you associate with or who you voted for, if you are a women I hope you see the sheer historical greatness of what happened on January 20, 2021. Kamala Harris became the 59th Vice President of the United States! Harris is the first Black person, first woman and the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, and the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government. As a women I am simply overjoyed! As a mother I have hope for the future. My little girl will grow up seeing a woman leading our country and will never remember a time when this wasn’t a possibility. My mini me will know she can grow up to be whatever she wants to be, even President! As Madame Vice President Harris stated in her acceptance speech, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl, watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, because they’ve never seen it before.”

Musical History Was Made– There were many firsts on Inauguration Day and among them was a musical first that some may be unaware of. The Marine Band has played every inauguration since Thomas Jefferson and music from America’s great composers have been part of every inauguration. But on this historic inauguration, the Marine Bands conductor selected many living composers to be included in the ceremony and he selected Julie Giroux’s “Integrity Fanfare and March” to be played as Kamala Harris walked up to the podium. This makes Julie Giroux the first woman composer to have a piece played in an inauguration ceremony! A truly noteworthy achievement for this talented composer and an inspiration to women in the arts. As a musician, who plays in wind ensembles, I have performed many of Julie’s pieces and have been greatly touched by her music. In 2016 I had the privilege of performing with her when she conducted the Saint Louis Wind Symphony’s premier of a commissioned piece she wrote for our group. CLICK HERE to read about that amazing day.

My daughter and I met composer Julie Giroux after performing her Symphony NO. V in 2016.

The Future– Vice President Harris and composer Julie Giroux made history. They are change makers that lead the way for future generations of women. They are showing women and young girls all over the world that they can not only sit at the table, but women can lead the table. It’s a great day to be a woman and I’m going to continue to proudly wear my Chucks and pearls!

Happy New Year From the Noteworthy Mommy…An Unprecedented Year and My Wish For You in 2021

If you had asked me in March if I would give up playing with my musical groups, terminate travel, give up my educational consulting job, go without live musical theater, stop singing in the choir, limit my visit with friends and spend Christmas without my parents, in return to spend more time with my family of three at home, I doubt my answer would have been an enthusiastic YES! Although 2020 was filled with its fair share of challenges, struggle and loss, as I look back on the year, it was also filled with many blessings. And spending more time with my family of three is at the top of the list! When all the distractions of my usually busy lifestyle were taken away, it left time for me to focus on a few things… the two people who matter more to me than anything else in the world, my loving husband and our little girl. Don’t get me wrong, there were days and still are (a new year doesn’t make the struggles go away) that I long for nothing more than a night away by myself but in 2020 my eyes were opened to prioritizing my life and putting my family and my faith ahead of everything else.

I almost feel ashamed that it took a pandemic for me to figure out the obvious but I’m grateful that I finally understand what is important. I have tremendous respect for Dan Presgrave, a brilliant conductor, teacher and the founder of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, which I am a member. He was headed down a very dark path, constantly searching for something to give him a “fix” and then he found Jesus and his life was transformed. He became a pastoral counselor, writes a weekly Christian blog at http://meetpastordan.com/blog/ and created a Christian counseling program for veterans. When he resigned as principal director of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, I was shocked. How could such a talented man, who devoted his entire life to music completely walk away from such a passion? Now I get it. Now I understand. Although Dan still appreciates music, through Christ he has completely prioritized his life and now he has peace and happiness that was only found when he put Jesus first.

My mother-in-law recently asked me what thing I missed the most in 2020? I think she was surprised when I shared that I didn’t miss anything. That wouldn’t have been my answer in March when we were in full shut down or even the months that followed. But once I began to concentrate on the gifts God has given me instead of what was taken away, I found an inner peace that has brought tremendous joy even during this difficult year.

My daughter’s amazing kindergarten teacher has her students write in a thankful journal every week. The entry for the weekend after Christmas asked the children why they are thankful for Christmas? My daughter looked at me and said, “That’s easy. There’s only one answer…Jesus!” Tears of joy filled my eyes because my young daughter understands what is important. I pray that she continues to put Jesus first.

Without my faith, my church, my talented pastors, my family and most importantly, Jesus, I would have never survived 2020. I don’t know what waits ahead in 2021 but I know that Jesus will get me through. He will continue to walk beside me through the joyous times, the hard days, the unthinkable and all of the days in between.

I close this New Year message with hope for you and your family. Patrick Swierczek, a childhood friend, posted this on social media and the words accurately depict my wish for you in 2021.

“Christmas Is”…A 2020 Christmas in Quarantine

Christmas certainly looks and feels different for everyone this year. My daughter and her sweet kindergarten class are quarantined for Christmas. It will be the very first Christmas that I won’t be celebrating with my parents. And the second Christmas birthday, in forty-nine years, that won’t be spent gathered around the dining room table in my childhood home.

So many Christmas traditions have been lost in 2020 and many of you may be feeling a bit down. But maybe it’s time to take a look at which traditions are truly important and focus on those? My daughter’s former preschool teacher told me she is beginning to dislike the word “tradition.” Her young adult children show no interest in them. It got me to thinking how many times I got caught up in doing something because it was a “tradition” and in the process completely lost sight of why it was even significant. Maybe some traditions are meant to be short term, to make way for something new.

After a rough year, where so many have experienced great loss, we all need to take a moment to count our blessings. We won’t be following our familiar traditions this year and our family Christmas celebration with grandparents will be delayed. But instead of mourning the usual tradition, I’m going to focus on quality time with my family of three and look with excitement at the fact that we get to extend our celebrating! A dear friend lost her father to COVID this month. I know she would gladly delay her family celebration by two weeks if it meant she had just one more day with her father.

A quieter Christmas has allowed me to focus on living generously and thinking of others. Instead of giving presents out of expectation or tradition, I reveled in surprising friends and loved ones, even strangers, by leaving mystery bags on their doorsteps. Seeing their appreciative smiles and receiving messages of gratitude from the little tokens given, was one of the best gifts I have ever received!

COVID may have kept you from going to face to face church on Christmas Eve but isn’t it amazing that through the power of technology we could worship with our families safely at home and even wear our pajamas if we chose! If COVID has changed your Christmas plans think of that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph weren’t surrounded by their families. They weren’t even in the comfort of home but in a lowly manager with animals when Mary gave birth to the Christ child. I’m sure this wasn’t their plan. But it was God’s plan. And what an amazing plan He has for each and everyone of us!

This year some of our Christmas traditions didn’t happen but that’s ok. In fact it’s more than ok because celebrating the birth of Jesus is the only Christmas tradition that is important. Jesus is the tradition that we need. And Jesus is the only tradition I care about passing down to my mini me.

Many of you will be surprised to see that Noteworthy Mommy’s Christmas post ends with lyrics written by Dolly Parton. I have a new fascination with Dolly and the words she penned for this song resinated with me because they truly capture what Christmas is.

Christmas Is by: Dolly Parton Christmas is a time for caring
Being at your best
Christmas is a time for sharing
Knowing you’ve been blessed
Christmas is a time for giving
Love is made of this
That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is a joyful time
If you’re the lucky ones
Some are blessed with gifts and trinkets
Others havin’ none
Some have feasts up on the table
Others havin’ crumbs
There are the haves and the have-nots
And you could be either one
It’s all about kindness
Love and compassion
Better to give than receive
That is a true fact
But those who don’t know that
Well, they are the poorest indeed
And I hope you remember every December
That bright shining light from above
The promise from God’s lips
The greatest of all gifts
Wrapped up in His wondrous love
So rejoice in His glory
The great Christmas story
And to all that you’re sharing it with
You go tell it with passion
Of love everlasting
‘Cause that’s what Christmas is

The Sweet Smells of Christmas

Christmas is almost here and for two generations this sweet book has helped my family of three get ready. Originally published in 1970, The Sweet Smells of Christmas, by Patricia Scarry, was one of my favorite childhood secular Christmas books. I discovered a few years ago that my husband had a copy of the book as a child and enjoyed it just as much as I had. When my daughter was a toddler my mother-in-law bought her a copy so she could have one of her own and it quickly became one of her favorite Christmas books.

I got lost in the pages with Little Bear and his parents and scratched the fragrance labels so many times that bare paper was revealed. My favorite smells were the hot chocolate and the orange. My daughter’s favorite smell is the candy cane and like me she fell in love with the scratch and sniff pages.

Like Little Bear, my childhood Christmases were magical. As an adult they still are! You easily could have replaced me with Little Bear as my house smelled of cookies lovingly baked by my mother and grandmother and I accompanied my dad each year as we carefully selected and cut down a fresh pine tree. Our tree, along with our entire home, was decked from top to bottom with Christmas cheer! There were years that carolers visited our home and filled our hearts with their angelic voices. And like Little Bear, Santa Claus always brought me more than a little girl could possibly wish for!

Now as parents, my husband and I get the joy of seeing and smelling Christmas with our mini me. There were Christmases where we yearned for a little one to hold so dear so even though we are spending a Christmas in quarantine, away from the rest of our family, we know we have been blessed! It will be different from past Christmases and we will dearly miss being with grandparents but we rejoice knowing that everyone will be healthy and safe. Like the bear family in the book our family of three will have a Christmas filled with love. And the best part will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, the greatest gift any of us could ever imagine!

Called to Care…Living Generously This Advent

This year Advent looks and feels different due to COVID-19. I found my usual hectic calendar surprisingly blank and my heart a bit empty. I prayed about something special I could do to fill the void and bring some joy. I knew I wanted to focus on individuals in my church congregation who live alone and are probably feeling isolated, lonelier and more home bound than usual. But I wasn’t exactly sure what God was calling me to do until I heard that the leaders of my women’s bible study were planning a service project that involved creating and delivering care packages to the 35 shut-ins in our congregation. Then I got the idea to write a Thrivent Grant so we could make the care packages special and so more individuals could be reached.

Along with writing personalized notes, the women in my Bible study donated a variety of items from fresh fruit, puzzle books, hard candy and hot chocolate, just a few of the many items in the overflowing bag. Our church, Zion Lutheran Church in St. Charles, MO, donated pens and Portals of Prayer books. Thrivent funds allowed us to add face masks and hand lotions to the initial 35 care packages. One of our leaders sewed the LCMS cross on the masks, making them extra special and with the generous donations from the Bible study, along with the Thrivent funds, I was able to expand the project to 30 additional individuals. (15 additional members at Zion St. Charles, 8 members from neighboring churches, and 7 members from my childhood church, Zion Lutheran Belleville). We were able to bless a total of 65 people!

Pastor Fieberkorn told us many of the individuals receiving care packages are feeling like prisoners in their own homes. They are receiving fewer visits, are not going out and are feeling more isolated.

Our pastor advised us to call first and mentioned that some of the people we deliver to may understandably prefer to have no contact, while others may invite us in. I found both to be true. I left packages at the door or briefly said hello. For those that wanted to talk, we bounded over being Lutheran, most stating that, like myself, they have been Lutheran their entire life. We talked about the virus, the feeling of isolation and the love we shared for our Lord and Savior. I received appreciative waves and “God Bless Yous” from afar, along with sweet phone calls and notes of appreciation.

The entire project filled my heart with pure joy! From writing the personalized notes, to having my mini me help pack the bags, to delivering the bags (with my husband driving, me navigating and our kindergartener learning how to live generously in the back seat), this project was a true gift and made this year end on a positive note. But the greatest gift of all was seeing the smiles on the recipients faces! I learned that it wasn’t about the contents of the bag but the gift of being remembered, knowing in this time of isolation that someone cares. This service project was a reminder that God continues to bless us with tiny miracles, even during times of darkness. We have hope in Him!

The Noteworthy Mommy would like to thank the following individuals for their help and support. This service project would have never taken place without them! Thrivent Financial, The women of Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles Bible Study, Angie Gielow, Rachel Schenck, Pastor Fieberkorn, Vickie Adams, Lillian Talley, Ken Talley, Marilyn Talley and Keith and Janet Freeman.

Advent Traditions…Preparing The Way

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season where Christians prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ by celebrating His birth on Christmas and looking forward to the day we will see Him again. This year Advent is going to look a bit different and I’m going to dearly miss some favorite church traditions like Advent By Candlelight, Family Advent Night and Advent services led by school children. As the pandemic continues, our traditions are forced to be altered and a little bit of sadness creeps into a season usually filled with cheer.

Instead of concentrating on what is missing this year, I am focusing on the gifts God has given me. More quality time with my family of three has allowed us to try new activities and as a result, the beginning of new traditions. Without the parties and added distractions, I am taking more time to study God’s word, beginning each day with an Advent devotional that is deepening my relationship with God. And the extra time I’ve gained from cancelled events has allowed me to slow down and clearly see the many blessings God has given. And that fills by heart with hope and joy, which is truly what Advent represents.

Advent Wreath– Christians have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to observe this as the time of the coming of Christ who is the light of the world. One tradition is lighting an Advent wreath at church and at home to mark each Sunday in Advent. This Advent tradition dates back to Germany and the Lutheran Church following the Reformation. Today Advent wreaths are made out of evergreen and are shaped like a circle to represent eternal life. The Advent wreath we use at church and at home has five candles with three of the candles being blue or purple in color to match the liturgical colors. The candle lit on the first week is blue and represents hope. The candle lit on the second week is blue and represents peace. The candle lit on the third Sunday is pink and represents joy. On the last Sunday of Advent a blue candle representing love is lit. The candle in the center is white and is know as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Advent Family Devotionals– This year my family of three are doing two different Advent devotionals, “The Way in the Manger” and “Jesus’ Family Tree” (Praying through Advent with the Jesse Tree). We begin our devotional by lighting our Advent wreath and singing the following song..

“Light One Candle”– Light one candle for hope, One bright candle for hope. He brings hope to every heart He comes! He comes! **For verses 2-4, replace hope with peace, joy, and love.

The tiny Advent wreath above was created by my mini me during her first year of preschool. Carefully crafted out of clay and decorated with green paint and birthday candles it is very special to us.

Advent Calendar With Pastor Rouland and Rupert the Dog– Our senior pastor is making daily Advent videos where he leads viewers in singing “Light One Candle,” reads a scripture verse and reveals a new ornament for his Advent tree. My daughter squealed with delight when Rupert the Dog makes a special appearance. Search for Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles on You Tube or click here for a video link.

Chocolate Advent Calendar– When I was little I always had a chocolate German Advent calendar. In fact, the German Club at my high school sold them. The tradition continues with my daughter and everyday we guess what shape the chocolate will be, hunt for the number and then rip open the little window and enjoy the sweet treat hiding inside.

Advent Tree– We’ve had this Melissa and Doug wooden Advent tree since my daughter was a toddler. My daughter loves adding a magnetic ornament to her tree everyday. It’s the perfect countdown to Christmas

The Queen’s Gambit

Are you looking for something new and noteworthy to binge watch over the holiday break? The Noteworthy Mommy highly recommends The Queens’s Gambit on Netflix!

Anya Taylor-Joy Makes Chess Sexy In The Queen's Gambit - Comic Years

This limited series on Netflix is simply captivating! Anya Taylor-Joy plays the main character, Beth Harmon. Her acting is extraordinary, making her the up and coming star to watch. The story is fresh and filled with twists! The relationships are complex and the writers, although all male, capture the female perspective. Like a good book, I found myself thinking about the story weeks later. There are so many layers to uncover.

Attention to Detail– The writer and director get so much right in this series, right down to the minute details. For example, Beth is from Lexington, KY and although the series was filmed in Ontario and Berlin, the slight hint of Lexington elements were not overlooked. At one point the camera pans to a school bus with Fayette County Schools written on the side. Having trained teachers in Lexington a few summers ago, I knew this was accurate. And Beth plays her first chess tournament at Henry Clay High School. My husband’s family is from Kentucky and his uncle was principal at Henry Clay High School, the oldest school in Lexington, KY. Beth’s adoptive mother takes her clothes shopping at Ben Snyder’s Department Store. Ben Snyder’s was a real store founded in 1913 and operated in the very Lexington, Kentucky location the show is set in from 1935-1980. The historical elements are accurate and through vintage sets, costumes and outstanding cinematography, the viewer is transported back to the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Chess– You don’t have to know anything about chess to enjoy this series. Although I am a novice, who has never played, the series peaked my interest in the game! I have read that they used real chess moves in the series and that the books and publications Beth reads are historically accurate.

There are only a handful of movies or shows that I deem worthy of watching a second time and The Queen’s Gambit notably falls into that category. Treat yourself by watching The Queen’s Gambit and you may find yourself adding a chess set to your Christmas wish list!