Apple Packed Days…Apple Picking, Apple Books, Apple Baking and Apple Exploration!

Fall is in the air and that means it’s time to head to the apple orchard to pick your own apples, make yummy apple treats, read apple themed books and have fun with some special apple activities!

Apple Picking- This year we went to Liberty Orchard, a small apple orchard in Edwardsville, IL not too far from St. Louis, MO. Liberty Orchard had nine different varieties of apples ready for picking on the day we visited and we enjoyed some of each! While at the apple orchard we picked green apples, yellow apples and red apples. We talked about how each variety tasted (sweet, tart, sour, crunchy, crisp, juicy). The orchard educated us on the many varieties and made recommendations on which apples were best for baking. We tasted the following: EMPIRE: Crisp, juicy, tart off the tree – mellows with storage. Chosen by McDonalds for their Happy Meal. Uses: Eating, sauce, pies, baking and salads JONATHAN: Sweet/tart with firm texture. Bright red color Uses: Eating, baking – an apple butter favorite. LIBERTY: Fine textured, crisp and juicy. Rich complex flavor. Uses: Eating, pies, sauces.

Apple Books– To prepare for our day at the apple orchard we read some books at home and my daughter’s kindergarten teacher read some Apple Books at school. These are just a few of the many great Apple Books we read this autumn. Fancy Nancy Apples Galore! was new to us but my daughter loved it because she loves anything and everything Fancy Nancy! Autumn is for Apples was another new read and was perfect for preschool and kindergarten students. Apples and The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons are classics and good informal texts. The Apple Pie Tree and The Biggest Apple Ever are fall time favorites!

Apples! Apples! Apples!– It wouldn’t be fall if we didn’t make the Apples! Apples! Apples! mini book I wrote when I taught kindergarten. My daughter and I have made one of these books every year from age two to age five and it has been fun to compare her increased control in fine motor abilities over the years. One thing that has not changed are the laughs when we read…Blue apples- Yuck! CLICK HERE to download a copy to make with your family.

Caramel Apple Cookies and Apple Pizza– This year my daughter decided that we should make caramel apple cookies with some of the apples we picked. I researched apple cookie recipes and combined a few to create our own Caramel Apple Cookie recipe. CLICK HERE to download the recipe. You have to try these cookies. They are amazing! They call for caramel bits, something I didn’t even know existed, although I did read some people make their own bits. This recipe tastes great with or without the caramel so you can enjoy them either way. We shared some with Lillian’s teachers and everyone thought they were simply delectable. It looks like we discovered a new fall tradition! Another activity from my book is Apple Pizza. CLICK HERE to download this easy but very tasty fall treat!

Apple Exploration- My daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed, led the class in a variety of apple activities from making apple sauce, creating apple prints, designing apple trees out of sticks and clay, counting apples and having the class graph their favorite kind of apple. I love the apple peeler the children used to prepare their apples for the applesauce. It brought back memories of the years I taught kindergarten because I did the same thing with my students! My daughter’s kindergarten class enjoyed comparing the length of the peelings…just another example of the fun exploration children can have with their world when given the opportunity.

Click on the links below for more awesome apple ideas from the Noteworthy Mommy!

Apple Activities for the Family

A Truthful Apple Story

Three in One- Using an Apple to Teach the Trinity

A Fun Loving Pastor Who Taught Me To Never Stop Cheering For God!

If you stay in one place for any length of time chances are good that at some point a friend, neighbor, co-worker, teacher or pastor, will leave your community and you will have to say goodbye, sending them off with well wishes and good speed. My family of three recently participated in a “water balloon” send off for one of our associate pastors who left our congregation to accept a call to serve at a church in West Hartford, CT.

COVID-19 made it impossible to hold a traditional send off but our church staff found a creative way to say goodbye. Pastor Reitz has a fun loving personality, enjoys a good joke and is known to ease awkward situations with a little bit of humor, so, it seemed fitting that our congregation had a send-off for him “water balloon style!” With water guns and water balloons in hand, church members drove through the parking lot drenching Pastor Reitz with water and best wishes. Pastor Reitz and his family will be dearly missed and we wish them the very best!

Fair Weather Fan– A Saint Louis Blues parade passed behind our house prior to our drive through send off for Pastor Reitz. It seemed appropriate, not because Pastor Reitz is a Blues hockey fan but it reminded me of a sermon Pastor Reitz gave shortly after the Saint Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019. The sermon touched me so deeply that I approached Pastor Reitz after the service and let him know how his words had resinated with me.

The Reitz family on the last Sunday they were together at Zion Lutheran.

I remember Pastor Reitz describing our city’s reaction to the Blues during the championship series. It seemed everyone had became a fan with households in every zip code tuning into the games! Blues banners and flags appeared on businesses and throughout neighborhoods. Stores sold out of Saint Louis Blues t-shirts and jerseys, making them impossible to keep in stock! There was no denying it, everyone in the St. Louis area was bleeding blue! Then Pastor Reitz questioned if these fans had always been Blues fans? Have the fans loyally stood by the team during the wins and the loses? Or were they being fair weather fans, only interested in the Blues when the team is playing well and abandoning them when they have a bad season?

Then Pastor Reitz asked us if we have ever been a fair weather fan to God? Have we ever turned away from God? This question hit me. Although I have never turned away from God, I have historically turned to Him more when I was struggling, suffering and in need of guidance. I have spent more time on my knees praying when I was experiencing a struggle than praying for thanks when everything in my life was going great. So in my own way I do turn away when the going is good. During that sermon I resolved to turn to the Lord during the good and the bad and the in-between. I was reminded that God never turns away from us! He loves us when we sin and forgives us of those sins when we ask for His forgiveness. He loves us when we win and when we lose. God is never a fair weather fan to His children.

Proverbs 3:5 happens to be my daughter’s memory verse for this week and I found it so appropriate.

Pastor Reitz and his family served Zion Lutheran Church for close to a decade. We pray for the Reitz family as they begin a new chapter serving the congregation at Bethany Lutheran Church in West Hartford, CT.

Look Out Kindergarten, Here We Come!

Last week was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten! A day I had played over and over in my mind for years. Although COVID-19 and the many changes it brings never entered my mind when I dreamed about sending my child off to kindergarten, my daughter and I were both ready for this new adventure!

This school year will be different in many ways…masks, temperature checks, no parents in the building, lunch and chapel in the classroom, assigned seats, extra hand washing, no field trips. (just to name a few of the many precautions put in place to keep the students at Zion Lutheran School safe.) Since my daughter has never been to kindergarten, many of the changes will go unnoticed. She is simply overjoyed to be back in school, elated to be in class with her best friend and is ready to begin this new chapter in her life. As we drove to school on that first day, a little voice from the backseat said, “Mommy, I am so excited to go to kindergarten. It’s been too long since I’ve been at school!”

Before I even had a chance to drop my daughter off I was receiving phone calls and texts asking me how I was doing? My mom wanted to know if I cried? Others wanted to know if I felt comfortable sending my daughter to school for face to face learning amid the COVID-19 crisis?

Last week my daughter and I went to school for a private “Meet the Teacher.” As we walked hand and hand down the familiar hallway (my daughter’s new classroom is across the hall from her pre-k classroom) to her kindergarten classroom, a sense of peace embraced me. Any doubts I had about sending my daughter back to school for face to face learning were washed away. After a long absence I felt as if we had returned to the open arms of a loved one. We were home. In that moment I was reminded that God was watching over us and that going back to Zion for face to face learning was the best decision for my family of three. During our visit we were warmly greeted by Mr. Debrick, our principal and Mrs. Haun, our early childhood director; two individuals who have worked endlessly making careful decisions, implementing new procedures and putting precautions in place to keep my daughter and her classmates safe. Their leadership made me confident on our decision to send her to school.

And I couldn’t have picked a better teacher for my little one! Mrs. Reed is the quintessential kindergarten teacher…warm, kind and loving, with a clear set of expectations. She has a Christ centered classroom, understands the whole child and has developmentally appropriate expectations for them. I know my daughter will have a fantastic year under her guidance and care and for that I am truly grateful!

On the first day I walked my daughter to the entrance of the early childhood wing where she was warmly greeted by a group of teacher assistants waiting to help her find her classroom. With COVID-19 preventing me from walking her to the classroom, I waved goodbye at the door. My little one excitedly entered the building, never looking back and walking confidently forward, clearly ready to kick off a new year of learning and growth!

I picked my daughter up from school at 11:30 (prior to COVID-19 we had signed her up for half-day kindergarten to start out) and she excitedly shared everything she had done. She described all of the things I would expect to see and hear in a kindergarten classroom on the very first day of school. From singing the days of the week (Adams Family version I figured out) to counting the days they have been in school to singing “Tall Voices on the Playground, Small Voices Inside,” to reading books (she scolded me for reading most of them to her already), to finding her spot on the carpet (she informed me some spots may change because people talked when they shouldn’t) to talking about Jesus, I could tell she going to have a fabulous year! By sharing these intimate details of her first day of kindergarten my sweet daughter had unknowingly presented me with a very precious gift!

The Noteworthy Mommy Gets Her Daughter Ready For Kindergarten!

During my twenty-eight years in the field of education, seven glorious years were spent teaching kindergarten. I look back on that time with found memories and keep in touch with some of my former students who are now young adults beginning careers or parents sending their own children off to kindergarten!

This year I am sending my only child off to kindergarten and we commemorated this milestone with some special books, back to school traditions and activities.

Kindergarten Books- To prepare my daughter for her first day of kindergarten we read several kindergarten themed books. As a former kindergarten teacher, most are from my own collection and as I read them memories of my seven years laying the educational foundation for five and six year olds flooded back. The joy of preparing my classroom and filling it with new materials, the shiny waxed floors and freshly cleaned classroom, the anticipation of meeting my students and experiencing a new beginning with them was thrilling! Now it will be my daughter’s turn. The following books are some of my favorites.

Meet the Teacher– A week before school, we signed up for a private meet and greet with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and kindergarten assistant. To avoid extra people in the school building, one adult was invited to join their child on this special tour of the kindergarten classroom. My daughter was excited to meet her teacher, Mrs. Reed and her kindergarten assistant, Mrs. Collins. My daughter found her cubby, practiced washing her hands properly, made a painted heart to hang in the classroom and read the book Kindergarten, Here I Come! with her teacher. My daughter got to take the book home so we could read it before the first day of school and inside the front cover was a handwritten note from Mrs. Reed. When I read the words “Jesus loves you and so do I,” any trepidation I had about sending my daughter to Zion Lutheran School for “face to face learning” was washed away. I felt confident that my husband and I had made the best decision for our family because I was reminded that along with Zion’s carefully thought out safety procedures and dedicated teachers and staff, Jesus would be lovingly watching over our daughter while she is at school.

The Kissing Hand Tradition- I always read The Kissing Hand to my kindergarten students and their parents during our “Meet the Teacher Night.” I also made and decorated heart shaped cookies for them to take home. I began this tradition with my daughter when she was a three year old heading off to preschool. CLICK HERE to read all about it. We continued the tradition this year with Nana and Pops joining us in baking and decorating homemade kissing hand cookies which we gave to my daughter’s teachers and administrators on the first day of school. CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade sugar cookie recipe and CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade buttercream frosting recipe.

A Special ‘Twas the Night Before Kindergarten Poem- I was touched to receive this special poem written especially for my daughter by Auntie Jaime, a dear friend and my daughter’s honorary auntie. When I read the poem it brought back faded memories of when I was a kindergartener (43 years ago) and more vivid memories of my first day teaching kindergarten (24 years ago). As you read the following words I hope you are transported to a simpler time, not so long ago, when all children could safely go to school, hold hands with a new friend, learn without wearing a mask and freely play tag on the playground.

Whether you are home schooling, going back to school for face to face learning, engaging in virtual learning or participating in hybrid learning, I pray that you and your children have a safe and productive school year!

A Sunny Day Filled With Sunflowers and Sunflower Cookies

Last week my daughter and I took a field trip to Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, just outside of St. Louis, to see the sunflower fields.

The pictures we took simply can not capture the overwhelming peace and warmth that embraced me as we stood among these beautiful giants. In the middle of that field, on that perfect summer day, I knew God was gifting us with a tiny slice of heaven. For a few hours my daughter and I left the stress of the world behind and simply breathed in the beauty that surrounded us. As we explored, we observed bees and butterflies coming to the field for nourishment. We witnessed frogs hopping around our feet and discovered wooly caterpillars munching on young leaves in preparation for their own transformation. We were fascinated by the young sunflowers, rhythmically following the sun with precision and felt honored to be a spectator.

The Transformation of the Sunflower- The life cycle of the sunflower is one of nature’s many marvels. The fact that a mammoth flower grows from a tiny seed and provides food for a variety of insects during the two weeks it is in bloom is simply amazing! And it continues to be a food source when its brilliant yellow leaves wither to brown and its head droops and faces the earth. Sunflower seeds are a valuable food source for birds, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and even people!

Sunflower Cookies– When we returned home we made Cardinal Cookies, a peanut butter based cookie with sunflower seeds as a main ingredient! Named after the Cardinal songbird (who loves to eat sunflower seeds), this delicious treat is one my kindergarten class enjoyed when we visited Little Creek Nature Center on district field trips. CLICK HERE for the yummy recipe

The Sunflower House– While we snacked on our freshly baked Cardinal Cookies, we read The Sunflower House by Eve Bunting. This delightful book introduces the reader to the life cycle of a sunflower through the eyes of a boy who plants some sunflower seeds and plays in the sunflower field with his friend all summer long. It has always been a favorite book to read but after our visit to see the sunflowers, my daughter and I could make connections while we read and the story truly came to life!

Slaw With the Lutheran Ladies

Who would think that a podcast about slaw would conjure up so many memories? That’s exactly what happened when I tuned into The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge podcast a few weeks ago. (You don’t have to be Lutheran to enjoy the podcast so please read on) It was one of Erin’s recipe card episodes and the title “Slawfest” really got my attention! CLICK HERE to listen to the Slawfest episode.

While the ladies chatted about cabbage and their favorite slaw recipes (are you team creamy or team vinegar) my mind drifted to my childhood and the yummy vinegar based slaw served family style at my church’s annual fried chicken dinner.

Zion Lutheran Belleville’s Annual Chicken Dinner– I have happy memories of attending the annual chicken dinner with my parents and grandma. The golden fried chicken and the delectable homemade desserts made by the Lambs Club (my grandmother was an active member) were simply amazing! There were years where my grandma bought tickets for my aunt and uncle and all of my cousins and my extended family filled an entire table in the gym at Zion Lutheran School in Belleville, IL. The dinner was more than the delectable food…it was family and fellowship and a fund raiser for the school. Although I have many memories, it’s the slaw that The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge helped me remember.

The Quest for the Recipe– After listening to the entire podcast I immediately called my mom and asked her if she had the slaw recipe. Unfortunately she didn’t have the recipe but she set out to find it by contacting the leader of her Juliet’s Group (a social group of retired ladies from Zion Belleville). Many of the ladies were founding members of Zion Belleville’s annual chicken dinner so surely one of them would have the recipe!

The Recipe– Along with the original slaw recipe, an email exchange of memories from the chicken dinner ensued with plans to share photos and stories once the ladies are able to safely gather again.

CLICK HERE to download and print the recipe.

Slaw Glorious Slaw!– I set out to make the slaw and it was just as I remembered, tart with just a surprise of sweetness! AMAZING! I didn’t have any celery seed to add and cheated by using a precut slaw blend to save prep time but it did not compromise the taste. The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge inspired me to “think outside of the box” and next time I might add some tart green apples, craisins or sunflower seeds.

As school fund raisers changed from sit down dinners to auctions, trivia nights and pizza sales; Zion Belleville’s famous annual chicken dinner became a tasty memory some 15 years ago. I’m delighted my mom initiated the discovery of the slaw recipe. Now the memories of Zion Belleville’s chicken dinner can be shared with the next generation through cabbage, carrots and vinegar!

I would love to hear about your favorite slaw recipes! Please share by commenting on this post and connect with the Lutheran ladies on social media in The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge Facebook discussion group and listen to them wherever you get your podcasts.

A Socially Distanced Summer at the Lake

COVID-19 has changed summer. This was the first July 4th in twenty-two years that I did not play patriotic music with the Northwinds Concert Band. Over the years the band experienced oppressive heat, wind and drizzle, but the event was never cancelled and the band always played on.

With no concert to play my family of three retreated to the family lake house. We enjoyed all of our favorite summer activities but things were different. A majority of people at the lake are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. As a result we don’t go shopping or out to eat, opting to cook all of our meals at home and using grocery pick up to shop.

Golf– The game of golf is already a socially distanced sport so you may be asking, “What could possibly be done to make the game safer?” When my husband and father in-law went golfing at the lake they reported that The Club at Porto Cima had some extra precautions in place to make sure all of their golfers were safe. Rakes by the sand traps had been taken away, foam was placed in every cup to elevate the ball so there was no need to touch the flag at each hole, water coolers (normally found throughout the course) had been taken away and golf carts were extensively wiped down after each use.

Swimming– We went swimming at the neighborhood pool in the woods. Choosing to swim late in the day proved to be a good decision as we always had the pool to ourselves! New social distancing signs had been added and someone came to clean the bathrooms while we were there (something we never saw in past summers). The pool at the yacht club was the opposite. It was crowded, there were no social distancing signs and the servers and bartenders were not wearing masks.

Boating– We enjoyed several boat rides and were easily able to social distance at the Lake of the Ozarks with 54,000 acres of lake and 1,150 miles of shoreline. Over the years we have become friends with the owner of Bikini Pier, a boat rental business. Mike shared that he was experiencing stellar business due to COVID-19. He is 80% ahead for the year on rentals and has sold 24,000 more gallons of fuel compared to this time last year! Most of his customers were new and many were from IL and IA.

I hope you and your family have time to get away this summer. After months of being confined at home the simple change of scenery was welcomed. Although I missed playing “Stars and Stripes” with the band, we had a fabulous July 4th! We returned home with sun kissed cheeks, adventures to share and long lasting memories. This is summer.

A July 4th Egg Hunt?…Helping a Small Business and Beginning a New Tradition

The year 2020 has brought unimaginable events so adding an egg hunt to our July 4th celebration doesn’t seem too far fetched!

Plastic eggs at stores in July.

When COVID-19 cancelled Easter egg hunts throughout our country, American Carnival Mart (ACM), a small family owned business was in trouble. ACM depends on Easter egg sales to support their business throughout the year. They also partner with Canterbury Enterprises, a local sheltered workshop that employs people with disabilities. The Canterbury workers fill the eggs for the egg hunts and without any sales in 2020, there won’t be any eggs to fill next year. Dierbergs, a St. Louis area grocery store chain, partnered with ACM and plastic eggs filled with candy and small toys began to appear on their shelves in late June. Dierbergs is giving 100% of the proceeds to ACM and to Canterbury Enterprises.

In our ongoing attempt to “Live Generously,” my husband and I bought some of the treat filled eggs and held a July 4th egg hunt at the lake house this year. My daughter met a new friend down the street who is from CA, and we invited her to join in the fun. The two girls had a blast hunting for eggs in the backyard with the lake serving as picturesque backdrop.

My daughter enjoyed the egg hunt at the lake house.

I overheard out of state shoppers questioning the colorful eggs they saw on the store shelf. My family of three were delighted to spy the eggs and look forward to making an egg hunt part of our July 4th celebration for years to come!

A Socially Distanced Field Trip to the Zoo

Last month we took a field trip to the Saint Louis Zoo. The zoo had many precautions in place to keep everyone safe.

Safety Precautions– To limit the number of guests on the zoo grounds they required everyone to make free reservations online and show up within their reservation window. Upon entering, each group had to show their reservation. Masks or face coverings were required for children and adults over the age of nine. While we were there I saw zoo employees enforcing this requirement. Hand sanitizer stations were placed throughout the grounds and extra measures were taken for keeping surfaces clean.

The Train– My daughter loves the train so we rode it around the zoo twice! Plexiglass panels have been installed between each seat to help social distance. At every stop the train announcer reminded everyone to keep their masks on.

The Carousel– One row of animals was marked with red tape and the other row was marked with green tape. They switched colors on each ride so every other animal was being used and an attempt at social distancing could be made.

Although the children’s zoo was closed, along with the indoor animal houses and theatre, there were plenty of animals to see and I appreciated the attempts being made to keep everyone safe. We defiantly enjoyed this socially distanced field trip to our famous zoo!

2020- We Didn’t See That Coming!…Confessions of a Dance Mom

This year was my daughters second one dancing at the Performing Arts Centre (PAC). When COVID-19 closed the studio in March, the Davenport sisters immediately turned to virtual classes and a week later…PAC danced! When our county began to open up in May, the Davenport sisters strategically worked out a plan to keep everyone safe, re-opened the studio and…PAC danced! After weeks and weeks in isolation, dance class was the first place we returned and our hearts filled with joy and…we danced!

As June approached and the dates of the annual recital inched closer, it seemed next to impossible to hold an event of such magnitude, let alone one that loved ones could safely attend. Would PAC even have a recital this year? How will they ever orchestrate such a production when auditoriums and theaters across the country are closed and there are social distancing protocols in place? Without fail, the Davenport sisters got to work and with a bit of creativity and tons of grit, PAC held their forty-sixth dance recital on June 20, 2020 and…PAC danced! Nothing can stop PAC from dancing, not even COVID-19!

Our sweet little dancer posing after her recital.
My daughter with her multi-talented teacher, Ms. Tracy Davenport.

How Did They Do It?– They constructed a stage in PAC’s parking lot, laid out a detailed seating diagram, to ensure safe social distancing, and held nine separate showtimes throughout the day that consisted of eleven numbers each. Each show was live-streamed on-line for those who couldn’t come in person.

The detailed seating chart.
Fans were handed out to keep everyone cool during the outdoor performance.

From the Noteworthy Dance Mom- As a second year dance mom I wasn’t alone in feeling nervous about the recital this year. COVID-19 made the recital challenging for everyone, even the experts! My daughter and her adorable class did a sweet tap routine to, “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake.” My daughter was fantastic and I’m so very proud of her. Having Ms. Tracy Davenport, PAC owner and artistic director extraordinaire, made for an amazing PS4 dance year! As a second year dance mom, I was faced with new costume challenges like attaching shoe bows and a hair piece. My prayers were answered when my mom and dad appeared at our doorstep, unannounced, just minutes before it was time to leave. Pops helped me style my daughter’s hair and successfully attached the head piece in just the right position. I am proud to say we survived our second dance recital, although it will go down in history as the one we didn’t see coming!

Pops styling my daughter’s hair for the recital.